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Our First 67 Years
by Mark Mandlsohn
In the Beginning
My parents Sol and Peppie Mandlsohn both grew up in downtown Toronto. As a teenager, Sol worked at his parents’ grocery store on Queen Street. Peppie studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and later taught piano.
After getting married in the early 1940s, Sol joined the Canadian army. While stationed in Halifax, he was given the opportunity to study radio electronics. Peppie worked in a local record store. After the war, Sol spotted a sale sign on a little store on Bay Street, just north of Bloor, and made an offer. They closed the deal on February 21, 1946 (Peppie’s birthday), and Bay Bloor Radio was born.
In the very beginning, Sol fixed radios. In fact, he would joke that he could fix a radio in the time that it would take him to smoke a cigarette. Always an entertainer, he engaged his customers with his wit and his poetry.
Sol was always driven by excellence. He believed in honesty, integrity and fairness, and his customers always came first. Because he gave them good service, his little radio store grew, and grew, and grew.
Sol moved into a larger store two doors away, expanded his Service Department, and opened Canada’s first Hi-Fi Studio. Klaus Kunz came on board as service manager, followed by Walter Stenzel, the best technician I’ve ever known. Sol always looked for people who cared about customers just as much as he did: George Miles, Tommy Yager, Scotty Bernstein, and Don Archer were some of the best.
Customers came to Bay Bloor Radio for personal attention and expert advice, and soon we began customizing component high-fidelity systems for an emerging group of hobbyists and music lovers. Peppie ran the record department and made sure that all cigarettes were smoked outdoors!
Bay Bloor Radio had now become a magnet for both customers and vendors (who would always take their new products directly to Sol). The first Fisher Stereo Receivers, the first Sony Trinitron colour TVs and the first Dual Turntables all brought more and more customers to Bay Bloor Radio.
The do-it-yourselfers came in for their Dynakits that they built themselves, and a growing number of audiophiles came in to audition the latest McIntosh amplifiers and Tannoy speakers.
The city was growing, so Sol took a giant leap forward with a brand new 10,000 square foot location in the new Manulife Centre project. Noted Canadian architect Ron Thom designed an incredible multi-level store that proved to be the perfect venue for a growing range of audio and video products. The industry thought Sol was crazy to take so much space, but it worked! Peppie added a terrific portable and accessory department.
I joined the company in 1971, after graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in Industrial Engineering. Slowly, I learned about marketing and advertising, and gradually, I learned how to do the buying.
Other staff that started in the ‘70s included Fred Jevons and Tony Gleaves, plus Jack Shiaman and Michael Bourne, still with us today.
Bay Bloor Radio was now famous throughout Canada, always first with the latest technology. When the first CD player arrived, Sol predicted that it would be a hit, and it was. Bay Bloor Radio quickly became Toronto's Digital Audio Headquarters, and a whole new generation of music lovers came in to experience the magic of music.
New staff included Peter Kelly, Tony Chang, David Yiu, Billy Saathoff and Toi Kelly.
In the late eighties, Sol and I could feel the market changing once again. Mini Systems were coming on strong, and Home Theatre was on the horizon. With the help of world famous Canadian Architect Raymond Moriyama, Bay Bloor Radio expanded again, with an ultra-modern award-winning design that would make the store world famous.
It was amazing press for a Canadian retailer. Hi Fidelity Magazine of London, England rated Bay Bloor Radio "One of the 5 Best Hi-Fi Shops in the World" in May of 1990. But now technology was moving even faster, and there was a lot more than just hi-fi to sell and service.
The marketplace had changed, and Bay Bloor Radio had changed with the marketplace. But what hadn't changed was the personal attention, expert advice and exceptional customer service. We just had to tell people! So, in the early ‘90s, I decided to start using radio ads as a way of getting our message across in a more personal manner.
Richard Bowden, Kenny Chan, Kim Hollinger, Charles Yip and Kai Mahatarntip joined BBR, and all of them are still here today.
My father Sol passed away in November 1998 at the age of 80.
The end of an era, and the end of a century.
The New Millenium
The first decade of the new millennium brought with it a new world of high definition television, and a strong market for sales for TVs and home theatre systems. The introduction of the iPod totally transformed the way the world listened to music. Who would have imagined that we could carry thousands of songs in our pockets?
And then came the Internet. The information age had truly arrived, and with it, a host of new challenges and new opportunities. I asked my mother what we should do, and she told me that we must form true partnerships with vendors that we could trust, and go to the market with strength. So we opened Canada’s first Bose Store, The Bose Experience @ Bay Bloor Radio.
We partnered with Panasonic on Toronto’s only Panasonic Viera Studio, to highlight the magic of flat panel TVs.
And we brought in the amazing Totem Acoustic loudspeakers from Montreal.
Peppie also told me what not to change - the founding principles of honesty, integrity and fairness.
My mother passed away in December 2004, the last of a generation.
Fewer customers. More competition. Lower prices. Less profit. Suddenly, everything changed, and not for the better. I asked myself, “What would Sol do if he were here?,” and he answered, “Work harder. Work smarter. Do all the little things that your competition can’t or won’t do. Love what you do, and become a hi-fi store again.”
Back to Our Roots
So we did. In 2010, we started selling vinyl records again. Turntable sales are booming, and computer audio is taking off. Our free turntable clinic and seminar have been a big hit.
My son Danu has come aboard after graduating from NYU with a degree in fine arts. We’re now doing the radio ads together and it’s lots of fun. And Danu has taken on the project of our new website, as we truly move into the future, full speed ahead.
In 2013, Bay Bloor Radio celebrates 67 years in business. As we move into the third generation, I am proud of what my parents accomplished, and hope that we can continue to be the best that we can be.
And yes, we still sell and service radios.