Record stores in the 70's and 80's

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Wellington Womble
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Record stores in the 70's and 80's

Post by Wellington Womble »

Anyone remember the stores where they bought their music in the 70's and 80's?

Round Records - One flight high on Bloor Street near Bay. In 1974 it was a large upstairs office space not unlike some bookstores on Queen Street. Then came an extensive renovation which really did wonders for the look. Always an interesting used bin - play copies, supposed import defects, deletes. Heard Terry Riley's \"Rainbow In Curved Air\" there and bought it. A short lived satellite store at Erindale College in Mississauga was tried and failed - I was their first customer.
Then Holt-Renfrew came along, terminated the lease, and demolished the building, thank you very much. Co-proprietor Barb Ellison set up Driftwood Music on Queen Street after that.

Driftwood was for many years the hip Queen Street used store. Any store that had a Brian Eno poster behind the till is definitely hip. Loved by the OCA(D) crowd and a supporter of the Toronto new wave scene. Closed down when they realized that they could accomplish the same end through selling via the internet - without having to deal with attitude from the customers. I was turned on to many bands in that store - the Stray Cats, English Beat, Bunny & The Lakers (er... scratch that last one).

Back to Bloor Street ... not far from the Bay subway entrance in the basement mall was another record store that specialized in German imports - mostly MOR but the occasional Krautrock act on the Ohr or Brain labels. Had stylish accessories such as LP carrying cases and storage units.

Further along Bloor Street near Spadina about where Swiss Chalet is there was a bookstore that had records in the back. Lots of dead end deletes like Victoria - Secrets of the Bloom, Wind in the Willows (these disappeared when Debbie Harry's presence on that album was noted), Tommy Roe - It's Now Winter's Day. But also the Masked Marauders (now reissued on CD!) and hundreds of copies of the Banana Splits which now go for $50 - $75 in mint condition. Wish I'd bought one hundred in retrospect. I have always wondered where the stock went as I've never seen the titles turn up elsewhere.

Even further west was Honest Eds. Pretty ho-hum record department until one time they got an incredible hoard of deletes from which I purchased the two Sharks (Chris Spedding) albums, several copies of a rare UK album by Billy Lawrie which featured a song written by Ringo Starr, and all three Wackers albums (Bob Segarini) for either 99¢ or $1.99.

Eatons 7th floor annex was much the same until the day they put out a selection of cassettes from the late 60s and early 70s. Stuff like Love - Forever Changes, J.K. & Co, the Creation, Hoboken Insect Trust, the MC5, etc. Wished they'd had the vinyl for some of these! The stock was then picked over by the Vinyl Museum...

Vinyl Museum was the used store that located itself north of A&A and Sams. Give them marks for chutzpah! (Actually they opened in one of the few properties not owned by the Snidermans.) Incredibly variable selection and a bad rep - they would pay next to nothing and sell for extortionate sums of money. A firend of mine once walked in with a mint copy of Freak Out by the Mothers Of Invention on Verve and was offered the princely sum of $5 while behind them on the wall hung a battered copy of the same album for $35. Still, they occasionally turned up the odd gem without realizing its value. Peter Dunn later became born again and the shop became a little overstocked with gospel and contemporary Christian records.
The Queensway and Islington superstore was the Yonge Street store writ large but with little coherence to the customer. Records that were scratched to hell sat alongside mint copies. A good third of the stock could have been thrown into a dumpster as it was in unsaleable condition.

Records On Wheels - some remember the bus Don & Vito started their enterprise in. I remember the narrow store at 629 Yonge and Don's \"It'll be in on Tuesday\" resonse to any request not in stock. Lots of cool imports (the first pressings of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark with the die-cut sleeves) and once they managed to secure copies of John & Yoko's Two Virgins that had been seized in the southern states as part of an obscenity charge and only recently released for sale. Not exactly the best $4.99 I ever spent.
Wheels or ROW later expanded the store and moved it down the street adding a book section that was unrivalled until Tower Records made their brief sojourn in Toronto. Then came a divorce and the end of the store. They consolidated as ROW Entertainment, bought CD Plus, and Koch Entertainment Canada. So they're still players, but as distributors rather than retailers.
There was also a store at Dundas located first in a converted streetcar called the Record Rocket (formerly a clothing boutique called Desire) and then above the Piccadilly Tube bar (now Atrium at Bay).

Mister Sound - Run by EMI, the delete bins were the attraction here - lots of EMI import deletes and other gems. A friend of mine picked up the 3 LP box set of the Wombles for a mere $9.99. I had to pay $34.99 for my copy.

Circle of Sound - Ho hum store, but occasionally a good find in the delete bin. Eventually ended up stocking some of the deletes from All Records Sales who had a warehouse at McNicholl and Gordon Baker Road. The warehouse was completely disorganized and the ratio of finds to looking through was sufficient enough to deter me from returning. Much of their stock ended up at a short lived store tucked in behind the Manulife Centre.

Target Tape - this was in a basement or maybe the delete bins were in the basement. In any event the deletes were more interesting - picked up some of the early Who titles there.

Discworks. Bernie Litolfsky's store, still in its original location. Once doubled in size and had a branch at Yonge & Edward (now an on-line cafe). Some incredible deletes (the Obscure music series produced by Brian Eno, Godley & Creme's Consequences, most of the import singles from Treble Clef Distribution when they went bankrupt, lots of indie singles) but otherwise OK stock.

Kelly's Stereo Mart - this was located where the Swiss Chalet north of Dundas is located. Stereo equipment and records - thought they'd give Sams and A&A a run for their money. Ultimately failed and retreated back to the west from whence they'd come. Some imports and most importantly an import sale every Saturday for 15 minutes (or was it with a coupon or a sale on 45s?). Bought my Beatles EPs there at close to half price which may have contributed to their demise.

Bargain Harold's - I think this was close to the old Woolworth store at Yonge & College. Never shopped there that I can recall. Harold got taken out in a mob hit and the store closed.

A&A's - several locations at one time but the flagship store was the one to visit. If Sams didn't have it, A&A's did was the old adage. The occasional find in catalogue but I spent most of my money in the delete bins. They used to have stairs at the front of the store that led to the bargain basement but these were later removed.
In the mid-70s the store was sold to CBS Records Canada who managed the chain quite well. In the mid-80s CBS sold it to investors who promptly installed Fred Rich as CEO. His first dictum was to slash the catalogue and stock only the hits.
This resulted in a skid of an extremly desireable Beatles 8lp box set from Japan featuring rare and alternate versions of songs being given away for $39.99 when the other stores who stocked it were selling British copies of the set on a regular basis at prices ranging from $59.99 to $74.99. Of course it sold out very quickly.
A decision to have more outlets on Yonge Street was announced. Soon at least three new stores opened on Yonge Street - none of them making any money. The joke among the industry was that A&A was trying to match Mister Submarine in the number of locations.
Then came a decision to puchase an expensive state of the art point-of-purchase system to allow for accurate inventory control. Except they didn't have money left over to adequately stock the stores for Christmas. A situation not unlike Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch quickly happened (\"Do you, in fact, have any stock at all?\") followed by receivership and a bankruptcy sale that showed they had put too much cash into buying massive quantities of Michael Jackson's Dangerous and Bruce Springsteens Tunnel of Love and not much else. Even Sam didn't jump at the opportunity to buy their remaining stock.

Sam The Record Man - Probably the most incredible selection of stock ever assembled in one store. Delete wall and bins were mandatory viewing with each visit. Bought my original edition of Nick Drake's Fruit Tree there at $39.99 or possibly less ($34.99?) when the only people playing Nick Drake were CFNY. The third floor was a hit and miss affair as regards anything of interest but Sam had a knack for buying deleted or surplus stock from the distributors and marking it down for a quick buck, a practice still carried out today by his sons. Some of the best collector's items came from piles of dusty stock hidden away under a browser - like the Riot On Sunset Strip soundtrack. Once beat Record Peddler's Ben Hoffman to the last copy of Man's Two Ounces of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle UK import at $2.99. Where do you think the collector stores got some of their stock?
The thing about Sams was this: Sam was always buying stock from US delete jobbers, allowing his chief staff to browse the lists and make suggestions, although Sam tended to limit their suggestions to a mere 5 copies per order (enough to fill a wall rack). Some of this stock got shipped to the franchises, along with special requests and indie stock where it was put off in a corner and forgotten. (You just can't sell Van Der Graaf Generator in Yellowknife or Corner Brook.) A store rep would visit the store, notice the stock, and have it sent back to the warehouse, who would then send it to Yonge Street or file it on the shelves in the warehouse. Some of the stuff that turned up was simply amazing! Original Mothers of Invention on Verve, Canadian pressings of obscure prog rock bands on the Nova, Vertigo, Dawn, Virgin, and Decca labels. Long out of print Canadian bands. Copies of CFNY favourites like the Headboys, 3D (All Night Televison), Fashion, Silicon Teens, etc. Deleted titles that had disappeared years ago. And lots of crap titles.
You never knew what would turn up! And that was the attraction. Still is.
Who else would order Ivor Cutler CDs and actually sell them?
The bankruptcy shed the encumberance of poorly performing mall stores and honed the chain down to two stores (Toronto and Halifax) who are now free to buy as they see fit. Sadly, it also stripped the Main Store of its amazing catalogue, especially during the 50% off sale in the receivership. This puts Sams back to being an independent store - which is how they built their reputation and success in the first place. The question is whether they can rebuild the catalogue in a time of declining sales. They are giving it a try though as opposed to HMV who have slashed catalogue.
And hey - check out the remaindered CDs at the back of the first floor. Some great stuff in there!

Music World - Before becoming a string of mall stores they operated a store at Yonge and Gould across from Sams. The store changed in size and selection through the years - I can remember a second floor of deletes at one time - depending on who was managing. In the early 80s it was quite a hip alt-dance store stocking much of the stuff CFNY was playing - Human League, Depeche Mode, etc. At other times it varied between a top con (i.e. hits only) store and a full catalogue store. They quiety shut their doors after HMV announced it was opening a store.
The deletes were of special interest as they were culled from Pindoff Distribution - a rack jobber who supplied many department store in addition to Music World. There was a store on Bloor Street near Kipling (formerly and now again a fast food restaraunt) that became an outlet for the non-returnable items (i.e. imports) that accumulated in the Pindoff warehouse a few blocks away.

Tower Records lived up to its reputation as a catalogue store. And it had a book and magazine section unlike any other. Not always the best in price though and that and its location may have contributed to the decision not to hold on to the store when the parent company got into financial trouble.

HMV arrived determined to wipe the competition off the map. They were financed by the head office to do what it takes to achieve market dominance in Canada - even to the point of running up a substantial loss in earnings. One of their first attacks came with pricing the new and eagerly anticipated Janet Jackson CD at the way below cost price of $3.33. Nobody could - or would - compete with that. On record alley on Yonge Street A&A's couldn't meet the challange, Music World retreated to the malls, which left Sunrise and Sam's. They offered quite a selection of catalogue at good prices until Sams declared bankruptcy in 2001, after which they cut catalogue and raised their prices thinking they had achieved victory in toppling the two national record chains, this leaving them in sole possession of the national market. They've got the youth market, but most youth prefer to download for free rather than buy so that isn't the best market to go after. The prospect of a Virgin Megastore next store has them shaking in their boots because what they did to Sams and HMV was what Virgin did to them in the mid 80s. And their slashing of catalogue has come at the expense of indie bands and smaller Canadian labels and distributors which has not won them many friends in the Canadian music industry. Offhand I'd say that they've single handedly set back the distribution of Canadian music 40 years. The saving difference is that the big labels (and their US counterparts) now recognize Canada, even if begrudgingly, as a source of talent.

Sunrise remains a viable alternative to Sams and HMV. They've carved a nice little niche out for themselves and expolit it quite well, though always wary of being stuck in a musical rut. They used to be also rans in the music industry - a poorer version of A&A or Sams but they've survived.
And that says a lot in today's market.

Record Peddler. An amazing store in its Queen Street incarnation. Unrivalled rock import selection (only ROW came close) with a special emphasis on singles. Also a carefully picked selection of deletes. (Even had two of the Wombles albums!) If you heard it on CFNY you could be certain that the Record Peddler would have it - in fact that was likely where CFNY got it in the first place. Bought Big Star and the Flamin' Groovies as imports there.
Then it moved to College Street and developed attitude and a preference for playing death metal and hardcore punk at earsplitting volume. Then a move back to Queen and Bathurst whence the business trailed off to closure.

One of the former Peddler staff started his own store The Bop Shop at Queen and Ossington. Too much stock for the size of the store but incredible selection. I think Brian (the owner) was slowly selling off all the items he had accumulated while working at Peddler - like several years of New Musical Express and other UK magazines. The store closed when Brian died.

Vortex - Bert Myers originally started the store on Augusta in Kensington Market. Then moved it to Dundas Street where it blossomed. You cannot comprehend the number of titles that moved through that store - the common and the obscure. Then a move to Yonge north of Eglinton where it still thrives. I dropped a lot of coin and discovered all sorts of cool music there.
Bert opened up another store run by Robert Lawrence at Queen and Spadina before combining with another store above Ring Audio run by Rob Bowman. Again, lots of cool stock in both stores.

Cheap Thrills - This began on a second floor office on the west side of Yonge Street across from Sams and A&A's. A store devoted to used records was a bit unusual at the time - many stores had a used bin to complement their selection of new stock. And the prices! I picked up several collector's items for less than $3.00 in the bargain bin - McKenna Mendelssohn Blues, (Spirit Of) Christmas. Later moved north of the Metro Reference library across the hall from Glad Day books.

Other used stores whose names I can't recall...
There was a bookstore that also sold records located on Harbord west of Spadina.
Also one on Queen Street west of Spadina - did he later become Discoveries?
There was a store on Queen near Logan that fixed stereo equipment. The proprietor was French-Canadian and his stock looked like he had taken a time machine back to 1973 and bought up all the deletes of the time.
Original Curtis Mayfield LPs for $7.99! Lots of pop instrumental stuff that Sams would have killed for. And a hodge podge of singles that yielded up several rare Apple singles and other gems. He later amalgamated with Just Play The Record on Yonge just below Gerrard with the result that the prices went up. Way up in some cases. Though I did get a mint copy of Martin Luther King's Christmas Sermon on Peace on CBC records from them.

Don's Discs - Queen & Lansdowne, later further west on Queen.
Don Keele was a collector and music afficianando supreme. Lots of oldies to be sure, and a bargain bin that turned up extremely collectable prog and folk albums at $2 - $4. How was I to know that the City Waites LP I bought for $2 would later turn out to be worth big bucks? I think if Don didn't like it or didn't know who the band was he'd blow it out. Don had been one of the founders of the collector's market in Toronto and helped organize the first Record Shows at the Farmer's Market in York region.

Kop's Kollectibles - Another collector's store specializing in 45s. And what a selection! I found several obscure items here and actually handled one of the rarest - the Compo Records pressing of the Decca Single of MY Bonnie by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (Beatles) which was then priced at a mere $1,200. Can't recall the original location (Queen & Lansdowne?) but it's still on Queen west of University.

Around Again. A fixture on Baldwin Street before the area became hip. I remember the sound of squawking chickens awaiting decapitation just across the street. A great classical and jazz section. Also a great selection of handpicked deletes. Close enough to UofT and OCA(D) to get discards from the students record collections.

Discoveries - Originally at Queen and Woodbine they are now further west (near Logan?). Nice handpicked selection of stuff - you almost feel like you're buying stuff from his own personal collection at times. Plus he has the only Rocky & Bullwinkle LP I've ever seen.

Edwards Records - For many years the place to look for bootlegs or buy Record Collector. Had a number of used bins that were worth browsing through in the days of lps and was smart enough to buy overstock from the major labels to sell at reduced prices. Had some nice memorabilia (buttons, patches) too.

And shuffling off to Buffalo....

Play It Again Sam (now Home Of The Hits?).
Large selection of US lps and indie stuff - like Alex Chilton's solo EPs, Devo, the B52s, Residents.

The Record Theatre was for may years the largest spread of records I had ever seen. The attraction was the import department where they'd occasionally reduce the price on some great titles. Even with the exchange (and assuming you made it past customs without being assessed duty and taxes) it was often cheaper in Buffalo than Toronto.
Also lots of import singles.

There was also House of Guitars in Rochester which was an incredible collector's store. Purchased original Big Star promo singles there in the 70s when they only cost $4.

Virgin Megastore, Oxford Street, London UK. This was the big one. I went in thinking I'd show them up by looking for obscure stuff and damned if they didn't have it! Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the entire Bruce Cockburn catalogue on LP (this is in the UK remember), they had it all. Plus I saw Roy Harper give an in-store performance. A store that just went on and on... and I didn't have luggage space or money enough to satisfy my cravings.

And I'm sure there are many more...
Wellington Womble
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Post by Wellington Womble »

Arrgghh! 2/3 of my original post was lost. Probably a limit on the number of bytes per post. I'll see if I can retrieve it somehow and post as installments.
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Post by jem01 »

I remember the ROW bus parked in the lot next to the old Market (ah, The Market, underground comix and pipes) on Yonge Street, then the store. The guys used to live in Scarborough when I first started dating my ex-wife. Kinda neat to see that bus parked in a subdivision driveway.

Target Tape, also on Yonge, just a bit north of House of Lords.

Does anyone remember Muntz? Don't recall stores downtown, but there was one in Scarborough Town Center, and one at Eglinton and Kennedy (i think).

I remember buying BeBop Deluxe's Sunburst Finish at Round Records. Still a favorite.

Off-topic: Speaking of BeBop Deluxe, does anyone remember the van that was around town with the cover to Futurama painted on it? Used to see it outside the old Roxy on Danforth&Greenwood.
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Post by Darkstar416 »

Where exactly was Driftwood? I'm pretty sure they were on the south side of Queen (around McCaul), but I'm looking for confirmation.

Also, was the store responsible for the short-lived Driftwood Music magazine that could be found around T.O. circa 1993?
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Post by Obtuse »

On the U.S. side in the 80's.

Cavages and Record Town (various malls).
Record Theatre (Amherst, mostly). Double stamps on wednesday!
New World Record, Williamsville (got my CFNY swag there).

and across the border:
Poptones on Queen St. in the Falls.
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Re: Record stores in the 70's and 80's

Post by JohnG »

Round Records - Used to go there all the time.

Back to Bloor Street - another record store that specialized in German imports - YES! They had these neat wrap-around chairs you could sit in an listen to stuff. Wow, that brings back memories.

Records On Wheels - was the place I visisted the most - to the point that a buddy and I ended up seeling bootlegs on the street for them on Christmas - one time I went for a coffe, came back and my friend and the records were gone! Found him and the police up a RoW ;)
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Post by admin »

Being that a lot of the stuff I was buying to play in clubs, a very large percentage of my vinyl came from Star Sound. That said, I was a very regular patron of Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum, which, as someone else mentioned here, was a rip-off joint with lots of treasures to be found. :)

I'm actually selling all my stuff off now (see upper left corner of screen) and I'm surprised at how many Vinyl Museum dust covers I have.
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Post by dstefan »

I used to visit star sound all the time but a favorite was on yonge north of eglinton. I can't recall the name right now but they were always great for rare 12\" vinyl and other rare stuff I couldn't find at other stores.

I believe the store was a bit south from where yummi's restaurant is now.
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Post by dcappe »

At Yonge north of Eglinton there used to be Vortex on the second floor near The Kitchen Table. it was great for vinyl. Same with the one on Queen street. Also there was Ed's Record World which was around until about 2 years ago. They had offshoots which are around called CD Replay.

Cheapies used to be on Yonge south of Bloor.

She Said Boom is a good place on College street just east of Bathurst which is still around.

Around Again Records is a great used record store at 18 Baldwin Street just west of McCaul and south of College.
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Post by alvask8z »

I loved Jonathon Lipstonstein's Incredible Records (I think that is what it was called) on Younge. Besides the rare wax he sold these huge album release posters. They were about 4 feet X 6 feet for $25. My first apartment was covered with them. Ian from The Cult was often seen browsing as well as Sheppard. Jonathon was a really really cool hippy with a million stories from the 60's and the fact he would talk to a long haired 18 y/o kid about music makes him aces in my book
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Post by BigBob »

I remember the Record Peddlar. A tiny bit out of the way and inconvenient hours but quite a selection and I was often pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive their imports could be.
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Re: Record stores in the 70's and 80's

Post by Scrub »

Record Peddler

They were on Carlton, across from MLG then they moved to Yonge street, near Wellesley, then to queen and bathurst for their death spiral.

Brian Taylor is alive and grumpy at Rotate This. Not sure who ran The Bop Shop.
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Re: Record stores in the 70's and 80's

Post by peterjax » have a great memory.

There was also a chain called Discus.

There was a Discus store in the Eaton Center that did me a great favor around 1980/81. They were playing the album "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" by Japan in store when the album came out. I ended up buying the album after hearing it in the store and Japan remains one of my favorite bands to this day.
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