Allan: End of Sam

I live in Toronto. Allan lives in Toronto. There’s no denying it.
So maybe we should write about it sometimes?

It was exactly forty years ago that I worked at Sam The Record Man, after hitchhiking from Vancouver to Toronto.
Just passing through, so Sam asked for a reference and I got one for him from a friend, Jack Humphrey. Jack would later own King of Kensington, and I, later, would babysit his four children, including a little tyke named Paul..
I was a timid teen in those days, and record stores were the biggest cash cow of all time, with Sgt. Peppers and The Doors and Hendrix drawing in thousands of people to buy vinyl L.P.’s.
And it really was true that whatever music played on the speakers in the store, that’s what sold.
I wanted to work the floor, but a guy with long hair and a British accent already had that job, so I was sent to the basement, alone, to re-fill the plastic sleeves that were sent down as each record was sold. Sam’s was only the middle store in those days, narrow, but had three levels.
I remember being paid less than $5 an hour, and after a few weeks of having no money after rent and food, I asked for a raise.
Sam Sniderman was a brusque, hyper guy, the kind you usually see chewing a cigar.
He let me go on the spot.
But there were no hard feelings. He had, after all, given me a job in the first place, and it was his business and he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

I returned to Toronto again in the 80’s, and saw that Sam had expanded into the bank on the corner.
And that next to him was another record store with giant “A” & “A” letters dwarfing Sam’s sign.
They packed up after a few years, leaving Sam to continue raking it in.
When Much Music started, one of the first videos I saw was by Blue Peter, a group that consisted of four guys that included Paul Humphrey as lead vocal, and Jason Sniderman on keyboards. (watch Video Verite – INCREDIBLE!)
Last November, their old record label brought them together again for one night only, and I was able to put my arm around Paul once more. The band was incredibly tight and so good, even if the songs and melodies were a bit dated.
Tears welled up uncontrollably as I heard them play, and I thought, this would have made a great webcast.
Though it was being videotaped, the idiots responsible never posted it.

In the past few years, I worked downtown, and would pass by Sam’s and say to my friends and family, “take a look, it’s already a dinosaur” in this age of internet and downloads.
The store had been “funkified” over time, with lots of memorabilia, and a classy coffee bar counter was put in, but it bombed.
The store had also opened up a ton of smaller stores across the country. I visited the one on Danforth and at St. Clair and the one in Vancouver.
The were all dead in the water, with staff trying to find something to do to keep from going bananas in a job that looked cool from the outside but was sheer boredom and stupidity inside – “I’m looking for a song that goes Da Da DaDa, etc”.
Sam’s also jumped on the bandwagon of the internet and set up a hugely expensive site to sell Cd’s, just like the other chains did.
Big, costly mistake, that soon folded.
They sold software on the balcony level, along with video games. But it was too early for anyone to know what they were doing with that stuff, so it too, tanked.

Even I would start to buy my stuff at HMV, usually because it was a buck cheaper, or even over at Sunrise across the street.
Now I understand that Virgin is going to open up on the corner this year, and they’re big.
You could see Sam’s falling further and further behind.
I would go past and inside sometimes and try to think of what could be done to bring the store up to date and with-it.
Offer to convert music to your iPod? Do a live webcast from the store?
Nothing seemed like it could really generate revenue.

When it was announced that Sam was closing shop (Sam was long ago retired and had handed it over to his sons) I went by and asked if I could be escorted to the basement to see it one last time.
The answer was no.
What a bunch of friggen assholes.

I went back a week later, asked for the manager again, and this time was allowed downstairs, accompanied by a muscular black guy, who promptly gave me the grand tour.
In ten seconds I was in the basement, and couldn’t remember any of it.
A few adults were sitting and toiling at long wooden benches under a low ceiling, doing God knows what since the store was only weeks from closing.
You sensed these were the veterans, who never saw daylight.
I had been asked if I knew anyone in the store, but how could I, it was 40 years ago. But sure enough, one guy was there who had started 39 years ago!
My escort and I made our way underneath the bank part, where we encountered a sour little guy dressed in black with a black toque and looking like a garden gnome.
It was Jason.
I reached out and shook his limp hand and said “I worked for your father here forty years ago.”
He lost interest in me immediately, floated away, while saying “this place wasn’t here forty years ago”, as if I was lying and out of it, and he wasn’t.
“well, no, it was the other side” I was saying, as Jason stepped into a nearby doorway.
The black guy, who was now a friend, made a face and waved his hand across his throat, but I already knew it was time to go.
Out on the street, I’m talking to myself, “that no-talent, little prick. Good riddance.”
And then I realized that this guy has been sucking off the tit of the the profits from this store since the day he was born. That he went on lots of vacations with his rich dad that the other kids in school didn’t. That he never had to get a real job, and probably thought the little money-maker would just go on forever. And now, not knowing how to run a business, any business, it was all going away, and he didn’t have a clue what to do with the rest of his life.
Ain’t it a bitch, being a rich, spoiled kid who suddenly has to think, and never learned how because the old man looked after everything, and gave him everything, including the business.
He never had to work a day in his life.
No wonder the gnome looked so bored and lost and pissed off.
No wonder Sam’s is history.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted June 30, 2007 at 1:18 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    There’s a connection for me: I’ve worked for Sam’s, and I work for CBC. And the level of management stupidity is rife at both.

    I remember getting long, expensive long-distance calls in the middle of the day from Sam’s H.O. asking why there was a $2.12 discrepancy in the cash reported from a month ago.

    And CBC managers fly around the country, meetings a plenty to discuss what thickness the border should be on the new website and how to cut back on unnecessary travel expenses for reporters while filing stories.

    Must be a Toronto thing.

  2. Johnny Happypants
    Posted June 30, 2007 at 5:22 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It takes Allan a long time to make his point—that Jason Sniderman will make an excellent Regional Director.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 7:12 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    i have to admit that this was more entertaining to read than allan’s comments on the girth of some women.

    but i’ll agree, i’ll take more CBC-related info and less old bitter guy who longs for the days of y’or.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 4:27 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    So, the take home message here is that Allan has been a ‘hanger-on’ for way longer than most of us imagined …

    Go CBC-related or go home.

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