When I was 13 years old my parents did the unthinkable - they took me out of my happy Toronto urban bubble and moved me to Sarnia, only three hours away but different enough to feel like a foreign country. High school is hard enough - but for a quirky little theatre geek who had finally managed to find like minded people in the city, Sarnia made me feel like the proverbial fish out of water.
I quickly wrote the small town off as having nothing that could possibly interest me, and retreated to my own little world of books and music where I was safe and felt included. It wasn't until I stumbled into my local Sam the Record Man store (yes, even Sarnia had one back then) that I finally felt at home.
Sam was a man who above all, understood the needs of his customer. His store was a haven for music nerds, a place where we could go and peruse the aisles for hours on end feeling completely welcome and at home. His staff were always friendly and knowledgeable, and perhaps most importantly - supported the underdog. I remmeber procuring my first taste of many wonderful Canadian bands (such as Moxy Fruvous, The Tea Party, Our Lady Peace and more) because I saw their CD heavily promoted next to the cash register at Sam's.
And then of course there were our quarterly trips back to Toronto and to the flagship store. For me those trips were better than Christmas, the anticipation got me through some of the tougher months of small town living. I vividly remember watching the movie Empire Records and how it glorified how "cool" it was to work at a record store - and thinking that must be how the kids at the Yonge St location felt. Those two giant flashing record signs were like a giant homing beacon, welcoming me back to the city.
Now many years later I'm blessed to have the opportunity to report on theatre and music in the city of Toronto - which I returned to as soon as I was grown up. But I must admit that every time a new album arrives digitally in my inbox, my heart sinks a little as I remember the days where getting the latest, hottest album was an event. Sam Sniderman helped give me those memories, and his passing (like the closing of his beloved stores) ushers in the end of an era I'm still not ready to say goodbye to. RIP Sam - thank you for the music.