Sam the Record Man keeps secrets from a longtime employee
Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, Yonge Street was on fire with music. And perhaps no place burned more than Sam the Record Man, pictured here in the Star in 1987.
Jimi Donabie has limitless fun memories of the legendary, gritty shop. “There was this period between the heating in the winter and the air conditioning coming on in the summer, where for about a week there was this smell of old socks and dead mice,” he laughs. “That’s when you knew the seasons were changing.”
Donabie worked the floors at Sam’s at 347 Yonge Street from 1984 to 1995. “A spoiled kid in a record store,” he says. “It was wonderful!”
Founder Sam Sniderman saw potential in Donabie’s love of music and strong work ethic. “He said to me, ‘Jimi, I want to open a store in Stoney Creek. I want you to move there and deal with it,” Donabie recalled. “I said, ‘I would love Sam, but I’m only 15.'”
Before streaming took over the music industry, Sam the Record Man was a go-to retailer. It was eventually flanked by A&A Records, HMV, Play De Record and Sunrise, making the entire block a destination for music fans. (Sam’s last franchise store still stands in a mall in Belleville.)
One of the best aspects stores like Sam’s were knowledgeable staff, who were as passionate about the music as they were about the customers. “People would come and say, ‘I’m looking for that song that says, la la la la,'” Donabie says. “And we’d be, like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great track. I have it here.’ “
Donabie remembers that the crew of the Sam was made up of eccentric characters. “There was Gunther, the old jazzman,” he says. “He worked at night in the jazz section, upstairs. When Kenny G first broke out, the big argument was, “Do we classify him as instrumental pop or jazz?” Gunther was adamant. He would come in for his shift, take the Kenny Gs out of the jazz section, put them in instrumental pop. And the guy running that section would get mad and sneak them back. One day a guy walks up to the jazz section and says he’s looking for Kenny G, and Gunther pushes him down the stairs and yells, “That’s not real jazz!” Go to instrumental pop! »
Another familiar face at Sam’s was manager Ron Gasskan. “He was always in a suit, always elegant,” says Donabie, fondly. “He had an incredible mind. He taught me so much about music, about soca. Customers would come in and say, ‘Look, Ron, I’m looking for something, you know, purple’, and Ron would say, ‘Yeah , I have exactly what I need.
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