Back in the late 1960s, Sam Sniderman refused to pay a penny over $16,500 for a sign over his Toronto music store, Sam the Record Man. He got it anyway. “When he said he wouldn’t pay any extra, we kind of knew that we should still do it,” says Jack Markle, who made the sign with his brother, also named Sam. He says they did it “because we knew that sign would be an icon in Toronto.”
Sam the Record Man’s famous spinning record, about six metres in diameter, was installed at 347 Yonge St. in 1969. A second record was added in the mid-80s. (They didn’t really spin, but flashing lights gave the illusion.) The sign became a touchstone of downtown Toronto and when the flagship store closed in 2007, a Facebook group calling to save it drew thousands of supporters. Their voices were heard loud and clear.
“We wanted to make sure that we preserved that piece of our history,” says Mohamed Lachemi, president of Ryerson University, which purchased the store and sign in 2008. He notes in particular, “the contribution of the [Sniderman] family to the music industry in downtown Toronto and beyond Toronto.”
Though the intention appears to have been to keep the sign at its original location, the record store was demolished in 2010, and the crystal design of Ryerson’s Student Learning Centre rose up in its place. The sign moved to 277 Victoria St. and Sunset Neon was chosen to restore it. Dr. Lachemi points to the company’s singular “expertise” in digital technology, which allowed it to conform to the real-life cyberspace that makes up the digital signs and billboards around Dundas Square.
Sam the Record Man 2.0 now soars above Toronto in a slightly changed form. Newly installed slats allow the wind to pass through the sign, diminishing its previously solid red background and causing the records to appear as though they are floating in space. But the sign’s spindle, a more than 45-year-old gallon paint can, remains.
Though the Markle brothers returned to reprogram the lights, Sam confesses their disappointment at the sign’s location. “It really, historically and visually, should have been at 347 Yonge Street,” he says. Sam Sniderman’s son, Bobby, shared their chagrin, but at the lighting ceremony on January 10, he put on a bright face. As he told the Toronto crowd, “It is your stories and memories that made and will preserve the legacy of Sam the Record Man for as long as these signs are illuminated.”
Newly installed slats allow the wind to pass through the sign. All photos by Brian Batista Bettencourt.
The iconic sign was restored by Sunset Neon.
The sign was taken down in 2010 after the original location of the store was demolished.
The sign’s spindle, a more than 45-year-old gallon paint can.
Since it first appeared in 1969, the sign was a touchstone of downtown Toronto.
The revamped sign was officially installed on January 10, 2018.
The new sign sits at 277 Victoria St in downtown Toronto.