|Sam Sniderman checks out the Sam the Record Man website in 2000. (Fred Thornhill/QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO — Generations of music-lovers who once frequented Toronto's iconic Sam the Record Man store regarded the owner's retirement 12 years ago as the day the music died.
Now, after a career that spanned seven decades, people everywhere are paying tribute to Sam Sniderman, who died Sunday at 92.
Sam the Record Man, who had stores across the country, "was the last of the great Canadian showmen that were able to establish themselves as household names purely through the force of their personality," close friend Brian Robertson, chairman emeritus of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, said Monday.
"He was a mentor to literally hundreds of Canadian artists and musicians and the Yonge St. record store and Sam's presence there was the centre of the Canadian music industry's universe for over three decades."
With new-release, foreign, classical, folk, ethnic and short-run platters everywhere, "you could spend a lifetime going through records that Sam forgot," former Toronto mayor David Crombie said.
"Sam kept his eye on the street and wasn't shy about making sure the city was doing the right thing," said Crombie, who was mayor from 1972-78.
"He also loved talking about the business."
The high school dropout and savvy businessman also befriended and mentored performers — whose photos were everywhere.
Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and The Guess Who were among the regulars who chatted with fans and signed autographs.
"It was like a mecca," said songwriter and guitarist Steve Campbell, producer of Quarter Moon Cafe music nights in the Bloomfield village hall south of Belleville.
He and his late brother Rick, also a musician, regularly visited Sam's in the 1960s and '70s, when Campbell often heard Sniderman's booming voice.
"We were looking for a new Beatles record and he said, 'Tomorrow, come back tomorrow at 9 o'clock,' so we did and there were hundreds of people scooping it up...for $1.99," he said.
"The prices kept people coming back," Campbell said, recalling stacks of new-release records priced at 99 cents or $1.99, at a time when other outlets asked $4.95. "Sam was larger than life...a retailer's dream, always in the store."
Among many tributes, Toronto Sun reader Alev Hashalom wrote Sniderman "supported and encouraged Canadian musicians and helped careers."
Sharon Russell recalled meeting him in the '70s.
"He was wonderful...made you feel right at home...always had time for you and he had great stories to tell," she wrote.
"Thank you for the dusty fingers I cherished after spending hours flipping through your collections," Daryl Faulkner added.
Born in Toronto, and raised in the city's Kensington Market, Sniderman first sold records in his brother Sidney's store, Sniderman Radio Sales and Service, in 1937, where he also installed car radios.
He opened a second store 22 years later on Yonge St. and launched franchises in 1969.
Through his passion for music, Sniderman "provided encouragement and support to a generation of Canadian artists," Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said.
After his retirement in 2000, Sniderman's sons took over the store, which went bankrupt in 2001.
His sons reopened in 2002 before closing finally five years later.
A Member of the Order of Canada, Sniderman was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, received the Governor General's Award and co-founded a sound recordings archive at the University of Toronto, with his wife.
He is survived by sons Bobby and Jason, their wives and four grandchildren.
An October memorial service will follow a public funeral Tuesday at Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel.
Sam Sniderman timeline
June 15, 1920: Sam "Sam the Record Man" Sniderman born in Toronto.
1937: Starts selling records in Sniderman Radio Sales and Service, brother Sidney's store below family's College St. home.
1959: First downtown Yonge St. store opens.
1961: Pays $140,000 for old bank branch, 347 Yonge St. -- operates there 46 years with expansions into adjacent buildings.
1969: Launches franchises, proclaiming 140 retail outlets across Canada by 1982; independent Belleville, Ont., outlet now the lone survivor.
1970s: Lobbies for Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to implement Canadian radio station content regulations.
1976: Awarded Member of Order of Canada.
1991: Suffers stroke.
1997: Receives Honourary Doctor of Commerce degree from Ryerson University.
1997: Inducted into Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
1999: Receives Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism from the former governor general.
2000: Retires, giving business operations to sons Jason and Bobby.
2001: Business declares bankruptcy and store closes, following music industry reorganization, declining CD sales plus Internet and chain competition.
2002: Sons reopen store.
Oct. 8, 2002: CBC-TV airs "Record Man: The Life & Times Of Sam Sniderman," who by then was living on Prince Edward Island.
June 22, 2007: After 18,000-signature petition, Toronto city council designates Sam's downtown property a heritage site because Ontario Heritage Act does not cover the two giant LP-style storefront signs made up of 800 neon lights.
June 30, 2007: Sons close store, site sold for $23 million to Ryerson University as part of $40 million property acquisition, to demolish and build new student learning centre.
2008: Last turned on for annual Nuit Blanche festivities, Sam's enormous LP signs also feature prominently in scene for The Incredible Hulk film.
2008: Ryerson spends $150,000 to have signs professionally dismantled, crated and stored, while future plans are being considered.
Sept. 23, 2012: Sam Sniderman dies in his sleep, surrounded by family.
-- Ian Robertson