A historical corner­­­: Yonge & Gould’s musical past

 Table of contents

The dawn of A&A Records

 

The invention of the phonograph by Edison in 1877 and the gramophone by Berliner in the late 19th century, created the market for recorded sound, first on cylinders and later on disks. By the early 20th century, several Yonge Street merchants who specialized in the sale of musical instruments and sheet music began to stock recording devices and recordings. Ads appearing in the Toronto newspapers, particularly during the Christmas season, highlight this trend. A December 1905 ad for Johnston’s at 191 Yonge announced the availability of all the latest and best songs and most popular music with a big reduction in the price of disc records.

 

Although most music stores discounted their stock periodically, it wasn’t until the advent of the vinyl long-playing record in 1948 that discount record stores began to appear in North America’s major metropolitan centres. In Toronto, A&A Records pioneered this approach to retailing records at 351Yonge Street.

 

Once the site of the 1900 Washer Company, and ultimately the home of Future Shop, 351 Yonge Street was purchased by Alice and Mac Kenner in the mid-1940s. With the assistance of her brother Aaron, Alice launched the A&A Book Store and later the A&A Lunchroom. The latter, like the Venetian Room next door, featured card, teacup, palm and crystal ball readers during the late-1940s. During the 1950s, a record bar was added to the operation. According to the Kenner’s daughter June, “Mac wanted to sell records but the major companies wouldn’t supply him, so he purchased $100 worth of … records and sold out within the week. Mac was the front man, Alice the brains.”

 

By the 1960s, the record-selling side of the venture dominated – an A&A’s ad for records in April 1969 billed the operation as the “World Largest” with 16,000 square feet of retail space. A profile of Mac Kenner and Sam Sniderman that appeared in the Globe and Mail in 1967 noted that, “Their cut-price competition has made Toronto the capital of Canadian recording sales.” Discounting at 20 per cent off the list price and promotional stunts – including clearances, loss leaders and door opening specials – ensured a steady stream of record buyers. Extended hours of operation, including Sundays, also encouraged trade although the latter resulted in both A&A’s and Sam’s receiving summonses for alleged breaches of the Lord’s Day Act.

 

Although the retailing of albums of popular music was a mainstay of A&A’s operation, it also maintained a large inventory of classical music. In 1967, Mac Kenner estimated that classics represented almost a third of the store’s sales. Kenner was particularly proud of the ongoing educational book selling side of the operation, run by Alice Kenner. According to daughter June, “My parents were voracious readers. Through A&A, they started out selling text books for what is today, Ryerson University, as well as dental and medical texts for the University of Toronto.”

 

In 1971, Alice and Mac Kenner sold A&A’s. The company eventually expanded to include franchises in Ontario and subsidiaries in western Canada and by 1990, had 260 retail stores across Canada. The chain went bankrupt in the early 1990s with some of its assets being acquired by Music World and Sunrise records.