The emergence of iPods and mp3 players may have caused the near demise of the CD, but Toronto’s dozens of record stores are proof that vinyl is still alive and well. From the Danforth to Little Italy, one would be hard-pressed to venture into a neighborhood without its own purveyor of LPs, 45s and 12-inch singles.
Toronto’s vinyl hubs are a mixed bag of relative newcomers and semi-institutions. The people running them are even more varied. Some made their names as tastemakers, others simply as personable music buffs, each of their respective stories more different than the next. In fact, aside from their obvious love of music, selling records may be the only thing they have in common.
Here’s a sample of Toronto’s bevy of record stores and the people behind them.
If not for the Allen Toussaint records proudly displayed in the front window, College Street’s newest record store would likely go unnoticed in favor of Soundscapes or June Records just down the street. After marketing bands for years, owner David McDonagh opened Loon two months ago as a way to remain involved in the music business. At 40 feet deep by eight feet wide, McDonagh’s in-shop cache is far from extensive, but music lovers can still uncover hidden gems in Little Italy’s latest hidden gem.
Personal classic: Stand! – Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
Address: 550 College St.
Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-7 p.m., Saturday noon-8 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m.
Located just west of Loon, June Records came to College Street in 2012. Co-owner and crate digger Dennis Reynolds says the decline in popularity of compact discs in the last decade saw consumers who were still buying music shift to vinyl. Anticipating the record’s inevitable resurgence, Reynolds and partner Ian Cheung made good on the opportunity to materialize a longtime dream.
Personal classic: Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)
Address: 662 College St.
Selection: Everything from pop to experimental. Audio electronics (turntables, headphones, amplifiers, etc.)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m.
After opening a second and third location in the last two years, Kops Records is proof that vinyl has emphatically come back. Before setting up shop on Queen and Pape in 1976, owner Martin Koppel was a tastemaker for England’s Northern Soul movement of the late 60s. Koppel would travel to American record stores and sell his findings to British DJs who craved an up-tempo Motown sound. According to Koppel’s son, Andrew, the Kops founder is responsible for discovering at least a couple of songs on most Northern Soul compilations. The original store moved to its current address at Queen and University in 1982, while the next two locations were opened in The Annex and East York, respectively.
Personal classic (Andrew Koppel): John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963)
Address: 229 Queen St. W., 592 Bloor St. W. & 1811 Danforth Ave.
Selection: Eclectic. Kops claims to have Canada’s largest collection of 45s.
Hours: Queen – Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m. Bloor – Monday-Saturday noon-8 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m. Danforth – Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Sunday-Monday.
After building his own vinyl collection as a DJ in the late 80s and early 90s, Aki Ab spent years as an accountant before returning to his first vocation, albeit in another capacity. Ab opened the first Cosmos on Queen West in 1998 as a haven for soul, funk, classic rock, golden age hip-hop and disco records. Just a few blocks west of the original store is Ab’s 10-year-old “passion project,” geared more toward his love of psychedelic rock, Brazilian and Latin jazz.
Personal classic: Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole – Sabu Martinez (1961)
Address: Cosmos – 607A Queen St. W., Cosmos West – 652 Queen St. W.
Selection: Vintage LPs and 45s. Cosmos – soul, funk, classic rock, old school hip-hop, early disco. Cosmos West – psychedelic rock, Brazilian and Latin jazz. In Ab’s words: “We don’t do mainstream music.”
Hours: Cosmos – Monday-Saturday noon-7 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m. Cosmos West – Monday-Saturday noon-7 p.m., closed Sunday.
Play De Record
Opened in 1990 by Eugene Tam, Play De Record spent its first few years at the back of a convenience store, its existence known only to vinyl diehards. As hip-hop’s audience grew, Tam was able to convince his landlord father to make the store the building’s sole tenant. Years later, Play De Record is still a Yonge and Dundas fixture, despite the presence of a multi-floor HMV just a few doors away. Aside from being the only independent record store in the immediate area, Tam’s shop offers DJ-ing classes, a fitting move since his partner, CIUT radio host Jason Palma, is one himself.
Personal classics: Earth, Wind & Fire, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass
Address: 357A Yonge St.
Selection: Hip-hop, reggae, EDM, funk, jazz, soul and new releases. Audio and DJ-ing equipment.
Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-6 p.m.