SameDiff BNL

BNL's Steven Page fondly recalls Sam's

By PAUL CANTIN, JAM! Showbiz, October 31st, 2001.

Canadian musicians will be mourning the death of Sam The Record Man, right along with music consumers.

Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page told JAM! Music he considered the venerable music chain's Yonge Street store to be the top record retailer he has encountered anywhere, despite touring and frequenting music outlets around the globe.

"Sam The Record Man—and I have always maintained this—on Yonge Street, is the greatest record store in the world," Page said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

"I have been to most record stores in most towns, I am a record-buying junkie. There is nothing that compares to it, in New York or London or Los Angeles or Stockholm or anywhere else.

"I'm incredibly saddened... Being in that store, that was the Mecca of music."

The record chain announced Tuesday that it has filed for bankruptcy. The landmark Yonge Street store, which opened in 1961, will remain open for the time being, under the auspices of receiver BDO Dunwoody.

Twenty-four of the chain's 30 stores across Canada will close within a week, but for Canadian musicians based in Toronto, it is the Yonge Street store that will be missed the most.

Page—whose first after-school job was at a Sam's outlet at the Hillcrest Mall—said the Yonge Street store was so central to his life that he immortalized it in the Barenaked Ladies' hit "Brian Wilson."

"Drove downtown in the rain nine-thirty on a Tuesday night/ Just to check out the late-night record shop," go the song's opening lines.

"It was the late-night record shop I am talking about in 'Brian Wilson.' That's it," he confirmed.

Sam's on Yonge was also one of the first record stores to pick up on BNL's burgeoning success, contacting the group to order copies of their indie cassette.

"When we first started touring, I would call or fax all the Sam's stores across the country, in each town we were playing at, and say we're coming here, think about ordering some tapes. Then I would send them off to (the distributor) with the same schedule. And it worked. It got us out across the country," Page said.

"It's a shame... It is part of the fibre of our music community."

Meanwhile, Rheostatics' Dave Bidini viewed the fate of Sam's in the context of other recent closures of Canadian institutions.

"I think it has been a pretty bad year, and really just a bad month for these institutions. First it was 'Saturday Night' (magazine), and then the El Mocambo. Mr. Dress-Up dies, and now Sam The Record Man," Bidini said.

"That corner. I remember the first time I went downtown and saw that orbital flashing eye over the street," he said, referring to the store's eye-catching sign.

"The first serious records I bought were there," he added. "I lined up to buy records when they came out in the '70s, and (for) autograph sessions and that kind of thing. Boxing Day was always a big one. They used to have great Boxing Day sales, and you would go down there with your Christmas money."

Bidini ranked the store as a Toronto icon on the same level as another shuttered landmark, Maple Leaf Gardens.

"I suppose this is all part of change, really," he said. "That is the only positive way to look at it. Things have to turn over at some point."