Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Suburban Beggar

Deep in the heart of Markham, well not really the heart of Markham, since it's dangerously close to the border with Richmond Hill, but anyway, there's this lady. She's someone's mother, someone's grandmother. During the day, she has nothing to do but wander the subdivision near my place of employment. Her English (to me at least) is poor. Her one sentence to me was "Please to give money."

How sad.

Photo taken through the cafeteria window in Markham, Ontario, on April 29, 2009.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don Mills Centre - 2006

Coles closed.

Best job ever - Summer 1988 at Music World

Walking in climate-controlled comfort. How gauche.

You were here.

Don Mills Montage in situ

Coming Soon?

nee Eaton's

Photos taken in April and May, 2006, prior to the world's longest redevelopment project, World Trade Center excluded, at former Don Mills Centre, North York Ontario.

The Shops At Don Mills - 2009

After adorning the north wall of the former Eaton's store at the old Don Mills Centre, Charles Staffer's "Don Mills Montage" now faces Lawrence Avenue from the wall between Mark McEwan's unfinished gourmand epicerie (pretentiousness mine) and the Ontario government plonkatorium.

Wall detail.

"Clock Tower" by Douglas Coupland

You are here. Somewhere.

Domin....I mean Metro carts. One of the few survivors of the old mall, if not in name.

The new anchor of the plaza, Winnipeg's McNally Robinson Booksellers. Thank gawd it wasn't a Chapters/Indigo.

This sure isn't your (grand)mother's Don Mills Centre. Today, Ontario's first "lifestyle centre" (a/k/a strip plaza with obscenely overpriced stores) opened on the southwest corner of Lawrence Avenue West and Don Mills Road.
Photos taken Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at the Shops on Don Mills, North York, Ontario.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Well well well...what is THIS!?! An EXPRESS streetcar?!? Whowhatwherewhenwhyhow is THIS going to happen? I mean, seeing a full car skip a few stops always happens. Is this the way the TTC is going to start advising people who are left stranded at the side of the road why their car passed them by?

(with apologies for the lousy cellphone photo quality) Taken at the Russell Car Barn on Sunday, April 19, 2009.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Record Store Day - The Haul

So up and early we were, headed for a lovely day in Niagara, but first, some shopping.

Before heading out, I took a peek online to see which stores were participating in this year's edition of Record Store Day. Hmm... Hamilton is on the way, sorta. Now, my wife is a patient person, but when it comes to record shopping, I think that she'd rather spend the day spooning her eyes out than wander through the racks of a music store, especially used stores.

Well today, her patience was well rewarded. We wound up at Dr. Disc in downtown Hamilton, who, unlike the nearby Cheapies, was not only participating in RSD, but was also offering 50% off anything that was "previously enjoyed". (It's at this point where my adrenaline kicks in and pretty much anything looks like a good deal which today, it really was!)

The haul at stop one consisted of a few used CDs: Ariane Moffatt, Hey Rosetta!, Lava Hay (for the Mrs.), and a couple of instrumental CDs on an offshoot of I.R.S. Records from the 80s called NoSpeak by Stewart Copeland and William Orbit. Probably the biggest deal today was a 4 CD set by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan). His three solo albums were augmented by a disc of bonuses all on discs that had additional videos and live footage included. Last night, I saw this box at Sunrise for $75. Today, I bought a used copy for TEN BUCKS! I feel almost sad for omitting Dr. Disc from my "love" list from yesterday's blogs. Almost.

I also picked up a couple of new CDs: The Who Sell Out, Deluxe Edition (for $9 less than HMV) and a new album by Booker T (of the MGs fame). Unfortunately, there weren't any discounts on new titles, but after the Fagen find, it didn't really matter.

My wife picked out a few DVDs that warranted the $3 to $5 post-discount price, plus a season of Frasier for her dad. I can't wait to see For Your Consideration.

After our afternoon and evening in Niagara, we stopped in at Sunrise downtown to see whatever leftover swag they had, where I got a couple of samplers and a Record Store Day tote bag. Well, that and the Pearl Jam "Ten" deluxe reissue which came with a 20% discount for the day.


Now if only I could spend $150 and get this much EVERY day.

(I'd be broke)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Record Stores - The Survivors

Finally, there are three stores which I'd like to pay tribute to. These truly are the survivors.

First is Buffalo's Record Theatre. This was my first stop on my first-ever US record shopping adventure and I must say that I was impressed. Their massive store at 1800 Main Street had a whole buncha stuff that you either couldn't get west of the border or if you could, you'd have to pay a steep premium to get it as an import. Even during the late-80's Canadian dollar free-fall, you could still walk in to the store on a Sunday and only pay a 15% markup. Of course, they couldn't help you hide your booty from the vultures at Canada Customs, but at least the price they started to screw you at was a lot less.

As with most companies these days, the current-day Record Theatre is a shadow of its former self. Down to only 3 stores, but they're still fiercely promoting music in the Buffalo area and still stock a rather wide selection of titles, new and used. I just need to know what I can do with all these damn frequent buyer stamps I've got lying around.

Survivor number 2 is Sam The Record Man. Yeah, you heard me. One store in Sarnia and another in Belleville don't exactly scream "chain", but hey, they're still here. And the one in Belleville at least has an awesome selection. By any town's standards. The mall that it's located in has an HMV, but for anyone who wants more than the Top 10, they head around the corner to Sam's. Or if they're like me, they drive 175km.

And finally, I'd like to end this list by paying tribute to the best darn used CD store Toronto has ever seen: Vortex. I remember walking into their original store on Dundas Street east and getting overwhelmed with the number of people they had jammed into their tiny shoebox of a store. It was there that I handled my first (used, yet still $27) CD. It was there that I spent many a Boxing Day rummaging through 50% off vinyl and 20% off CDs. It was there that I heard all sorts of cool, unheard-to-these-ears music that made me ask "How much do you want for that?"

I'd post a pricetag for Vortex, but it's simply an orange sticker with the price scribbled thereupon. Simple. And simply wonderful. Thanks, Bert.

Now then, enough about the past. Get out there and buy some music today! And please don't do it at Walmart.

Record Stores - The Out of Towners

Being a chronic, obsessed, music purchaser, most of my vacations revolve around the local record store. Some places, like Rochester, NY's House of Guitars don't put price tags on their product. Others, like Buffalo's legendary Home of the Hits, had generic price tags.

Then there's the dearly missed Record Runner, probably the best record store ever in Ottawa. Of course, them's fightin' words, but I always managed to buy something every time I visited.

Then there are chains like Virgin, which decided to abandon their US operations this year, and who managed to operate two airport-based stores in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as a mega-store in Vancouver in the early 2000s.

What Sam's was to Toronto, Harmony House was to Detroit. A family-owned chain who eventually shut down due to downloads and cut-throat competition from the big boxes.

Cheap Thrills still carries on on Metcalfe Street in Montreal, but back in the day, the bargains were to be had a few blocks west on Bishop, where this Big Audio Dynamite 12" single came into my life.

Record Stores - Evolution

Another store which played a major role in record retailing on the Yonge Street strip in the 80s was Cheapies. It had a location near Yonge and Wellesley, just down from Records on Wheels/Peddler, which is now Refried Beats, and two locations near Yonge and Dundas. The "Warehouse Store" was vacated after the company was taken over by Quebec's Discus chain and the building was later demolished, with the land forming part of Toronto Life Square.

A tag from Cheapies' "Discus" years.

Currently, the Cheapies brand lives on on King Street in Hamilton where a lone store sells a wide variety of CDs, new and used, DVDs, novelty items, and indeed vinyl.

The granddaddy of Yonge Street record stores, even older than Sam's, was A&A's. Initially being a three level records and book store, the store eventually became one of the better-stocked outlets for both domestic and import titles. Not as broad as Sam's on the domestic front, and nowhere close to the imports carried at Peddler, A&A still managed to have decent prices and decent selection. Sadly, they thought that 'more is better', and they diluted the brand by opening stores at Yonge and Bloor, Yonge and College, Yonge and Richmond AS WELL AS their mega-store at Yonge and Elm. This sort of pissing contestancy did them in and in 1992, they were gone.

Less pay, more Payola$. Priced to move on Boxing Day, 1984.

Sarah McLachlan's first album on Nettwerk with the original artwork. I even have a 'certificate of authenticity' (i.e. register receipt) stuck in the back of the shrinkwrap.

The last version of the A&A price tag, as shown on the Shuffle Demons' classic "Streetniks" release.

Record Stores - Fallen Flags

In honour of Record Store Day, I took a look through my thousands of shiny (well, dusty) black discs just to see how many different stores I used to shop at back in the glory days of vinyl (i.e. pre-1988 when I got my first CD player). The biggest problem I found was that a lot of stores I shopped at used to price their platters with either a pen or a grease pencil. When I worked at Music World in the Don Mills Centre in the summer of 1988, practically everything was in grease, with a few notable (?) exceptions (see below).

The 80's vintage Music World sticker. Replaced in later years by a circular black sticker with the price in middle.
Ahh Driftwood. One of the best stores on the Queen West strip, at the foot of St. Patrick Street, just west of University. This place was fabulous for their $1 sales and a healthy stock of indie product, such as the first version of "I'm An Adult Now" by The Pursuit of Happiness, which was mine for the low price of $3.99.

Another bargain basement, as well as every other square inch of the store, Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum had stores on Yonge Street, next to A&A, on Bloor Street, first near Brunswick, later west of Bathurst, and at two locations on Lake Shore Boulevard West, in either Mimico or New Toronto. Also, for some strange reason, they had a location in Clearwater, Florida, which I managed to drop a few bucks at back in 1993. The Vinyl Museum was an odd duck. They had a ton of cheap one- and two-dollar records, as well as collectables at higher prices, but what made them "different" in later years was the presence of subtle Christian writings on the plastic outer sleeves which protected their albums. I will say that there's some sweet irony in seeing a Dayglo Abortions record being "protected" by the Lord. This CD, by the Quebec fusion band Sortie was my final purchase at the Lake Shore/Islington location in the early 90's.

Probably my favourite import store had to be Records On Wheels. I'm not sure whether the location near Yonge and Wellesley was part of the chain which has now evolved into the CD Plus brand, but their selection was unique. And cheaper than Peddler, too! (If it was $6.99 at Record Peddler, it was usually $5.99 at Wheels). It was here where I bought my copy of "Do They Know It's Christmas" a day early, it was here where I got OMD to autograph a tour programme, it was here where I'd run to after hearing "Live From London" or the "Original Import Show" on CFNY to drop my hard-earned teenage cash for one or two songs that weren't released in Canada (yet, if at all).

Speaking of the Peddler, this was probably the most notorious place where music snobbery ran rampant, where asking the clerk to play your about-to-be-purchased copy of "So In Love" generated a sneer (he played it anyway, btw) and you went first thing on Boxing Day to get overstocked import albums (never mind the singles) for a dirt-cheap price. Or use it as a jumping off point for going over to Records on Wheels to save a buck or two. Record stores aren't above a little irony, either. Shortly after Wheels abandoned ship on Yonge Street, the Peddler moved from their Carlton Street space into that of their former rival.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Just outside Rochester, NY, is a hamlet called Fishers, which is now part of the Town of Victor, NY. An idyllic area full of forests, farms, and unfortunately, the annoying drone of vehicles speeding along the New York State Thruway. At least the horses don't seem to mind.

Photos taken Sunday, April 12 on Fishers Road and Benson Road, Victor, NY.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

(Extra) Strange Medicine

Now, just because nobody actually shops at the Bay pharmacy in Eglinton Square doesn't mean that they should allow shenanigans with the label printer.

Well, maybe just this once.

Photo taken on March 29, 2009 in Scarborough, Ontario.