City of Toronto councillors, the son of Sam The Record Man owner Sam Sniderman and a panoply of local musical talents, including, yesterday, Gordon Lightfoot, have all lined up solidly behind an online push to get Toronto City Council to insist that Ryerson Polytechnical Institute honour its previous commitment to reinstall the store’s iconic sign on the Yonge St. property the institution bought after the business went kaput.
Ryerson bought the property on Yonge just south of Gerrard St. in 2008 after the store closed, promising as part of a purchase agreement at the time to rehang it in a student centre it planned to construct on the site following the store’s demolition.
The promise was made in a deal signed with Sniderman, who died a year ago this month, and was endorsed by the city’s Planning Division and Council, in exchange for permission to proceed with the plans for the new centre. According to a Sept. 5 report in the Toronto Star, Sniderman’s son, Bobby, told a reporter that his father only agreed to the property sale because the university had agreed to “honour his legacy” by remounting the sign.
For 47 years the two-storey sign, which used 800 synchronized lights to create a dazzlingly captivating spinning-record effect, was a kind of beacon for Canadian musicians and their fans seeking to get the latest releases on vinyl, then cassette tapes and finally compact discs. In addition to output by chart-topping acts, the store was renowned for carrying product created by local “indie” bands before anyone had ever coined such a term.
But like most other independent record retailers, Sam’s was affected by the revolution in music formats that led to declining sales of physical product and resulted in its 2008 closing.
Last month the educational institution said it could not afford to refurbish and remount the sign and also said “safety concerns” were an issue. It has asked the City to amend the original deal to allow it to install a sidewalk plaque commemorating the store rather than to have to remount the sign. The city’s Toronto and East York Community Council is to consider the application, endorsed by the Acting Director of Urban Design in the city’s Planning Division, at a meeting next Tuesday –if it is approved it would go the full Council on October 8.
But, late last week, an online petition was launched demanding that City Council not approve the amendment and it has already gathered support from a who’s who of indie musicians. A Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/SaveSamSign) that was set up last Friday, Aug. 30, contains posts urging Ryerson to “do the right thing” and remount the sign as promised posted by TO indie darlings such as Ron Sexsmith and Dave Bidini. Yesterday, the site prominently displayed a letter written by Gordon Lightfoot that states simply:
“The giant neon spinning discs are a reminder of the huge role that Sam Sniderman and his store played in the cultural life of Toronto and I believe they should be preserved and remounted in the interests of our city’s heritage.”
The Facebook page, which as of 12:30 a.m. September 6 had 395 “Like”s, also contains several links to other petitions, City agenda items, statements by musicians and fans and stories in other media.