The music fan of the 1970s didn’t have the plethora of resources that we enjoy today. Sure, the popular records of the time were sold at most department stores. But what if your tastes were a little more eclectic? Unless you had a decent independent record store nearby, your best bet was to head to your local Sam Goody, a mecca of sorts for the New York music aficionado.
The story starts with a man named Sam Gutowitz, a man who originally sold toys and novelties from his small retail store in Manhattan. In the late 30s, Sam noticed an increased demand for phonograph records (78s at the time) from his customers and started stocking a few popular titles. He quickly surmised that selling music was more profitable than his other stock. He closed up shop and opened his first music store on 49th Street, which he called Sam Goody. By 1955, this single location was responsible for 7% of all music sold in the nation, and Sam was welcoming some 4,000 customers a day into his store.
Sam Goody didn’t just stock the most popular stuff like other retailers. The store prided themselves in offering not only one of the most extensive record inventories around, but also a very knowledgeable sales staff. They stocked the largest labels and the smallest, including an impressive selection of foreign imports. And while most stores only carried a small selection of 45s, usually just the top hits of the year, one could browse hundreds, if not thousands of 45 singles at Sam Goody.
By the early 70s, there was nearly 20 Sam Goody locations scattered around the east coast, many of which were placed in shopping malls. Then, in 1978, Sam sold the entire chain to the American Can Company. The iconic record store changed hands many times in the years that followed and gradually lost all of the charm of the original. Although the company expanded to hundreds of stores, most didn’t have the floor space to handle the extensive inventory of their predecessors, instead relying on the generic selection of popular music, which further alienated their loyal customer base. By the time the 90s arrived, Sam Goody was a mere shell of its former self, just another overpriced peddler of pop music.
For those who only know Sam Goody from its later incarnations, it might seem silly to fondly remember such an entity, but if you were buying music in the 70s, it’s hard not to wax nostalgic for the good ol’ days of Sam Goody, where one could browse their aisles for hours, finding countless musical gems along the way.
Do you have fond memories of shopping at Sam Goody back in the day? We’d love to hear from all you former customers and employees. Help us relive those glory days in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to what was once a respectable and thoroughly enjoyable music store.