01/11/2017 17:38 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

Ontario slams brakes on last Sam the Record Man's bid for tourism marker

The owner of the last Sam the Record Man in the country wants to turn his business into an official tourist attraction, but the province is singing a different tune.

Once a cross-Canada chain with 140 locations, Sam the Record Man declared bankruptcy in 2001, the victim of stiff competition coupled with the advent of online music.

A few franchises remained open, but now the only location left is at the Quinte Mall in Belleville, Ont.

"It is a tourist destination," store owner Spencer Destun told CBC Radio's All In A Day. "If you're over 30, you probably have visited a Sam The Record Man store in your lifetime. With that in mind, what else could it be but a tourist destination? It's an iconic brand name that everyone can relate to."

Destun applied under a provincial program that allows signs on Ontario highways to mark tourist attractions, but the Ministry of Tourism rejected his bid to place a marker on Highway 401, ruling the record store failed to meet its criteria.

'Not enough signage space'

"Since there is not enough signage space on our provincial highways for unlimited signing, criteria [were] developed in consultation with the tourism industry to determine eligibility. Retail-oriented businesses such as Sam the Record Man do not meet this criteria, unless tourism is the core business activity of the applicant," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that Destun could explore other options to highlight his business.


"We understand the unique history behind Sam the Record Man and would recommend that its management contacts Quinte Mall, adjacent to the 401, to explore opportunities to identify the store on the location sign on the plaza's property. Additionally, municipalities have full authority over roadways under their jurisdiction and they may be able to provide additional opportunities to support this business."

Destun said he is exploring other options. He said he understands that his business does not meet the current provincial criteria but hopes the ministry will reconsider and make an exception. He is collecting signatures in support of a tourism sign.

"It's a guideline — it's not a straightjacket," Destun said. 

He added that he runs a "vibrant operation," but believes more customers would be drawn to the store if they just knew it was there.