Sign of the Times

By: Neil Feineman

About four years ago, I spent an odd five or six months in Detroit. I loved it, but the grim winter and violence levels started getting to me. So three months into the extended visit, I took the train to Toronto for a long weekend. And, although these things are relative, it seemed like a trip to Paris.

It wasn't just the spell of sunny weather and smiling people, the tofu dogs on the street or the vibrancy of the neighborhoods or the fact that you could walk the entire city and still not leave a public park. It was the spirit of independence and the wealth of book and music stores that made you think that here was one town that had managed to buck the Internet and continue to make shopping an adventure.

Of those stores, none was more impressive than Sam the Record Man, whose spinning neon vinyl records gave 347 Yonge Street a touch of Times Square. Open since 1961 (after moving up the street from its original location, which opened in 1937) and at one point a chain of 130 stores across Canada, the store was owned by Sam Sniderman, who was instrumental over the years in promoting Canadian musicians and music.

The chain dwindled, but the flagship store seemed safe enough until May 29, 2007, when the two sons who now owned the business announced it would be closing a month later, a victim of the music industry's decline. Before the store and the signs could be demolished, however, a campaign on Facebook to save the signs was successful, and the Toronto City Council voted to protect the sign under the heritage act. Because there is no provision to protect signs, the Council ended up protecting the entire building.

Or so they thought. Ryerson University, a college adjacent to the store, bought the building. Under their reading of the law, they can demolish the building if they move the signs intact somewhere else. They plan on doing that, so that they can build a bigger (but probably not better) building. Their gain is Toronto's -- and our own -- loss.

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Guvernment / Kool Haus Entertainment Complex

132 Queens Quay EastToronto, Ontario M5A 3Y5Canada

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