Keeping Sam's memory alive

“It was relatively easy with a name like Sam the Record Man to be successful,” he said. “You were the only game in town.”

He described the franchise as the “crown jewel” of Canadian music during its time.

“They were by far the leading music retailer,” he said. “Getting a franchise of Sam the Record Man would have been akin to getting a Tim Hortons or a McDonalds today.”

Belleville Intelligencer
September 25, 2012

Keeping Sam's memory alive
Jason Miller

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Holly Destun, co-owner of the store.

Sam Sniderman's iconic record empire didn't die with the man this week.

The last vestige of it lives on, in name, in Belleville.

Sniderman, founder of the now defunct Sam the Record Man music store chain, has left on indelible mark on Canadian music and an even greater impression on Spencer Destun, whose Belleville store is the last surviving Sam the Record Man.

Destun, who opened the Belleville Sam the Record Man in downtown Belleville in 1979 as one of dozens of stores across Canada, attended a memorial service for Sniderman in Toronto, Tuesday. Sniderman, who died Sunday, was 92.

Destun has been inundated by a flood of calls from media outlets, curious about his memories of the savvy businessman whose career spanned seven decades.

“There's only one Sam the Record Man,” Destun said. “He was a Canadian icon in not only in the music business but in the retailing business.”

The coast-to-coast chain, which was once one of the biggest in the country, went bankrupt in 2001. His flagship store on Toronto's Yonge Street, which opened in 1959, closed in 2007.

Destun said Sniderman's name is long carved into the pantheon of Canadian music industry greats and the crumbling of the storied franchise does nothing to rob him of that coveted status.

“Once you’ve accomplished something they can't take that away from you,” he said. “He did it.”

Destun credits a mixture of Sniderman's business acumen and penchant for service as crucial elements in his own formula for keeping the Belleville store a player long after other outlets have gone mute.

The 72-year-old Destun joined the Sam the Record Man legacy when his family opened a franchise downtown more than three decades ago.

“It was relatively easy with a name like Sam the Record Man to be successful,” he said. “You were the only game in town.”

He described the franchise as the “crown jewel” of Canadian music during its time.

“They were by far the leading music retailer,” he said. “Getting a franchise of Sam the Record Man would have been akin to getting a Tim Hortons or a McDonalds today.”

Before the introduction of other big box competition and music downloads via the Internet, Sniderman had cemented his name as the primary provider of the music Canadians played, Destun said.

“He was in tune with the times,” Destun said.

That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the routes through which music was delivered became more diverse and accessible to the average consumer. Music pirating websites delivered one of the final blows to Sniderman's beloved music enterprise.

“All of a sudden people were able, through technology, to start downloading songs,” Destun said. “We lost a lot of our clientele.”

A strong following for bands is behind the continued relevance of the Belleville store and Destun's efforts to remain viable. The business will also be going online with its Sam the Record Man website next month. All part of Destun's bid to keep Sniderman's legacy alive.

“There's 140 other people who didn't,” he said about the failed franchises. “We just took his business philosophy, stayed with it and embraced technology.”

Destun admired Sniderman's work ethic and charm throughout their many encounters over the years. In addition to being a businessman, Sniderman was well known as an advocate for Canadian music and its artists. Destun has maintained that connection by providing local artists with a free outlet to sell their music.

“He stepped up, took their CDs, put it on the front rack and promoted them,” he recalls. “I think he will be remembered for that more than anything else.”

Sniderman was presented with the Order of Canada in 1976. He 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 Eleanor.

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