In 1946, you can purchase a home in Toronto for lower than 10 grand, take a journey on the TTC for a dime, and discover the best audio tools and servicing on the nook of Bay and Bloor, the place members of the Mandlsohn household welcomed prospects at their mom-and-pop store, Bay Bloor Radio.
Seventy-six years later, considered one of this stuff remains to be true. Certain, the placement modified way back, from a small storefront on the northwest nook to a grand showroom a stone’s throw away within the Manulife Centre, and the enterprise has since been handed down from founder Sol Mandlsohn to his son Mark. However Bay Bloor Radio remains to be very a lot devoted to getting its purchasers — within the phrases of their inescapable radio ads — “the fitting sound for the fitting worth.”
As Mark sees it, there’s a very good cause why Bay Bloor Radio has managed to outlive into its ninth decade by way of recessions, trade upheavals, and, most just lately, pandemics — and it’s not essentially due to the shop’s fastidiously curated stock of premier stereo elements that promote for the value of a small sedan. “We had been at all times considerably quirky,” he says with pleasure from one of many retailer’s home-theatre testing rooms. “My father was a poet and actor earlier than he was a businessman. He was a memorable character. He by no means gave out a enterprise card in his life. He mentioned, ‘In the event that they don’t keep in mind who I’m, I don’t deserve the order.’ His objective was to supply the consumer greater than they anticipated, for lower than anticipated.”
That hands-on, customer-friendly philosophy helped Bay Bloor Radio develop past its humble repair-shop roots right into a extra strong home-entertainment hub within the ’50s and ’60s, with Sol’s spouse, Peppie (“an equal companion from the very starting,” says Mark), overseeing the store’s vinyl division to enrich all of the turntables flying out the door. And after the shop relocated to Manulife in 1974 — three years after Mark joined the household enterprise — Bay Bloor Radio’s repute for high-end hi-fis and pleasant technical help would assist set it aside from all of the impersonal chain shops and big-box retailers that sprang as much as money in on the CD and home-theatre crazes of the ’80s and ’90s.
“My father’s basic — which we attempt to impress on the employees on virtually a every day foundation — is that there are not any shortcuts to success,” Mark says. “It’s about exhausting work and dedication and doing unto others. He believed that making a revenue was a byproduct of working a enterprise — it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. It occurs due to all the opposite stuff that you would be able to’t measure.”
Nevertheless, following Sol’s passing in 1998 on the age of 80 (by which level Mark had assumed his present position as firm president), Bay Bloor Radio confronted its best existential menace. Not solely did the web trigger gross sales of CDs — and the stereos required to play them — to plummet, but it surely additionally spawned a technology of listeners content material to play music by way of tinny laptop computer audio system and Bluetoothed smartphone earbuds. What’s extra, by way of the web, prospects may purchase their mp3 gamers, streaming gadgets, and TV soundbars instantly from the producer, successfully slicing out middlemen like Bay Bloor Radio.
And, but, occasions of disaster may carry new alternatives. Music’s digital age impressed a reactionary tilt again towards the tactile pleasures of vinyl, resulting in a sustained uptick in Bay Bloor’s turntable enterprise, whereas the explosion in on-line gaming has opened up a complete new shopper base for the shop’s high-quality headphones.
What’s extra, the recognition of interior-decor porn on Instagram and Pinterest has spurred demand for design-savvy specialty merchandise — like Scandinavian-styled music systems from Ruark Audio, colourful portable speakers from Tivoli Audio and skeletal turntables from Rega — whose unconventional aesthetics enchantment to the type of urbane clientele Bay Bloor Radio attracts. Extra just lately, the previous two years of rolling pandemic lockdowns prompted many informal music listeners to rethink and improve their home-entertainment setups, a growth that’s stored the shop’s session and set up groups a lot busy.
These shifts are mirrored in Bay Bloor Radio’s current renovation, their greatest overhaul because the late ’80s. Past boosting the shop’s avenue presence on Bay with a putting glass-box facade, the brand new reno successfully transforms what was as soon as a subterranean industrial-style house right into a vibrant gallery-inspired boutique, full with a central pyramid construction displaying the newest merchandise from coveted manufacturers like Binghamton, N.Y., stereo makers McIntosh and Italian speaker specialists Sonus Faber. There’s additionally a brand new vinyl-dedicated station that hosts a rainbow-like array of colour-coded Professional-Ject turntables subsequent to racks stocked with starter-kit classics just like the Beatles’ “Abbey Street” and Arcade Fireplace’s “Funeral,” in addition to devoted listening lounges for featured manufacturers just like the U.Ok.’s Bowers & Wilkins and Montreal’s Totem Acoustics.
“I simply wished to arrange the fitting construction for my two boys to have the ability to do what’s theoretically unimaginable to do: to take an organization into the third technology,” says Mark, now 73. He’s referring to his sons Danu, 40, and Sam, 26, who joined the Bay Bloor mind belief in 2006 and 2017, respectively, and have helped usher Bay Bloor into the fashionable age with their e-commerce experience and data of emergent area of interest manufacturers. For the youthful Mandlsohns, the renovation was essential to realizing their imaginative and prescient of a Bay Bloor Radio that also very a lot caters to severe audiophiles with deep pockets (together with such celebrities as Elton John and Kiefer Sutherland), however may educate budget-conscious neophytes on the significance of investing in correct gear and getting the most effective worth. “It’s a extra accessible retailer now,” Sam says. “Hello-fi shops have a repute of being a boys’ membership, the place you’re anticipated to return in with a wealth of information. However we’re seeing increasingly more individuals who you wouldn’t assume match the stereotype of a hi-fi purchaser.”
To emphasise the purpose, Danu factors to a key element of the renovation: the headphones part. As soon as tucked away at the back of the store, it now includes a smooth store-within-a-store with a glass wall that showcases its wares to consumers strolling by way of the Manulife Centre concourse. It additionally includes a non-public listening room the place prospects can check out the cans. “It’s astonishing to me that folks will purchase headphones with out making an attempt them on first,” Danu says. “We imagine headphones are the gateway drug to excessive constancy.”
And even when that gateway doesn’t assure a teen shopping for a $65 pair of Sennheiser buds will sometime shell out $45,000 for a pair of Bowers & Wilkins floor-standing audio system, the cornerstone of Bay Bloor Radio’s survival technique is that each forms of prospects are handled the identical method.
“The basic of doing enterprise is that folks will purchase from individuals they like,” Mark says, “and I don’t assume that ever adjustments.”
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