Sam the Record Man: a former worker spills store secrets

Throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Yonge Street was ablaze with music. And perhaps no spot burned brighter than Sam the Record Man, pictured here in the Star in 1987.

Jimi Donabie has limitless funny memories of the gritty, legendary shop. “There was this period between the heat being on in the winter and when the air conditioning came on in the summer, where for about a week there would be this smell of old socks and dead mice,” he says, laughing. “That’s when you knew the seasons were changing.”

Donabie worked the floors of Sam’s at 347 Yonge Street from 1984 to 1995. “A wasted youth 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 down there and manage it,” Donabie recalls. “I said, ‘I’d 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. (The one last Sam’s franchise shop still stands in a Belleville mall.)

One of the best aspects of stores like Sam’s was the knowledgeable staff, who were as passionate about music as the customers. “People would come in and say, ‘I’m looking for that song that goes, la la la la,’” Donabie says. “And we’d be, like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great tune. I’ve got it right here.’”

Donabie remembers the Sam’s crew being made up of some eccentric characters. “There was Gunther, the old jazz guy,” he says. “He worked the night shift in the jazz section, upstairs. When Kenny G first broke, the big argument was, ‘Are we filing him in pop instrumental 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 who ran that section would get pissed off and sneak them back. One day, some guy walks up to the jazz section and says he’s looking for Kenny G, and Gunther shoves 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 spiffy,” says Donabie, fondly. “He had an incredible mind. He taught me so much about music, about soca. Customers would come in and say, ‘Listen, Ron, I’m looking for something, you know, purple,’ and Ron would say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got just the thing.’”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Comment