In 1946, you could buy a house in Toronto for less than $10,000, take a TTC ride for one centand find the best audio equipment and services on the corner of Bay and Bloor, where members of the Mandlsohn family have welcomed customers to their family-owned boutique, Bay Bloor Radio.
Seventy-six years later, one of those things is still true. Of course, the location changed long ago from a small storefront on the northwest corner to a large showroom a stone’s throw from the Manulife Center, and the business has since been passed down from founder Sol Mandlsohn. to his son Mark. But Bay Bloor Radio is still very determined to attract its customers – in the words of their essential radio spots — “the right sound at the right price”.
According to Mark, there’s a good reason why Bay Bloor Radio has managed to survive its ninth decade through recessions, industry upheavals and, more recently, pandemics – and it’s not necessarily because from the store’s carefully curated inventory of premium stereo components that sell for the price of a small sedan. “We were always a little eccentric,” he says proudly since one of the store’s home theater test rooms. “My father was a poet and actor before becoming a businessman. He was a memorable character. He never gave a business card in his life. He said, ‘If they don’t remember who I am, I don’t deserve the order.’ His goal was to offer the customer more than he expected, for less than expected.
This practical, user-friendly philosophy helped Bay Bloor Radio expand beyond its humble repair shop roots into a more robust home entertainment hub in the 1950s and 60s, with Sol’s wife, Peppie (“an equal partner from the very beginning,” says Mark), overseeing the store’s vinyl department to complete all the turntables that flew in the door. And after the store moved to Manulife in 1974 – three years after Mark be joined in the family business – Bay Bloor Radio’s reputation for high-end stereos and friendly technical support would help set it apart from all the impersonal chain stores and big-box retailers that has popped up to enjoy the CD and home theater craziness of the 80s and 90s.
“My dad’s basic principle — which we try to instill in staff almost daily — is that there are no shortcuts to success,” says Mark. “It’s about hard work, dedication and caring for others. He believed that making a profit was a by-product to run a business – it wasn’t the end of the world. It happens because of all the other things you can’t measure.
However, after Sol passed away in 1998 at the age of 80 (by which time Mark had assumed his current role as president of the company), Bay Bloor Radio faced its greatest existential threat. Not only has the internet dented sales of CDs – and the stereos needed to play them – it has also spawned a generation of listeners capable of playing music through tiny laptop speakers and headphones. Bluetooth for smartphones. Additionally, thanks to the Internet, customers could purchase their mp3 players, streaming devices, and TV soundbars directly from the manufacturer, eliminating middlemen like Bay Bloor Radio.
And yet, times of crisis can also bring new opportunities. Music The digital age has inspired a reactionary return to the tactile pleasures of vinyl, leading to a steady increase in the Bay Bloor turntable business, while the explosion of online gaming has opened up a whole new consumer base for high quality headphones from the store.
Additionally, the popularity of home decor pornography on Instagram and Pinterest has spurred demand for specialty design products, such as Scandinavian style. music systems by Ruark Audio, colored portable speakers from Tivoli Audio and skeletal turntables of Rega – whose unconventional aesthetic appeals to the type of urban clientele that Bay Bloor Radio attracts. More recently, the past two years of continued pandemic shutdowns have prompted many casual music listeners to redesign and upgrade their home entertainment facilities, a development that has kept the store’s consulting and installation teams busy.
These changes are reflected in the recent renovation of Bay Bloor Radio, their biggest revamp since the late 80s. As well as reinforcing the store’s street presence on Bay with a striking glass facade, the new renovation effectively transforms this what was once an industrial-style underground space into a bright, gallery-inspired boutique, with a central pyramid structure displaying the latest products from coveted brands like Binghamton, NY, stereo makers McIntosh and Italian loudspeaker specialists. Sonus Faber speakers. There’s also a new dedicated vinyl station that hosts a rainbow array of color-coded Pro-Ject turntables alongside racks full of starter kit classics like The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and The Beatles’ “Funeral.” ‘Arcade Fire, as well as dedicated listening lounges for star brands like Bowers & Wilkins in the UK and Totem Acoustics in Montreal.
“I just wanted to put the right structure in place so that my two boys could do what is theoretically impossible to do: take a business to the third generation,” says Mark, now 73. He refers to his sons Danu, 40. , and Sam, 26, who joined the Bay Bloor brain trust in 2006 and 2017, respectively, and helped bring Bay Bloor into the modern era with their e-commerce expertise and knowledge of emerging niche brands . For young Mandlsohns, the renovation was crucial to realizing their vision of a Bay Bloor radio that still appeals to serious audiophiles with deep pockets (including celebrities like Elton John and Kiefer Sutherland), but can also educate neophytes. budget conscious on the importance of investing in the right equipment and getting the best value for money. “It’s a more accessible store now,” Sam says. “Hi-fi stores have a reputation for being a boys’ club, where you’re expected to come in with a wealth of knowledge. But we’re seeing more and more people who you think don’t fit the stereotype of a hi-fi buyer.
To emphasize this point, Danu highlights a key element of the renovation: the headphone section. Once hidden in the back of the store, it now features an elegant store-within-a-store with a wall of glass that showcases its wares to shoppers walking through the lobby of the Manulife Centre. It also has a private listening room where customers can test the cans. “It’s amazing to me that people buy headphones without trying them out first,” Danu says. “We believe headphones are the gateway to high fidelity.”
And even if this gateway does not guarantee a teenager the purchase of a $65 a pair of Sennheiser headphones will be released one day $45,000 for a pair of Bowers & Wilkins floorstanding speakers, the cornerstone of Bay Bloor Radio’s survival strategy is that both types of customers are treated equally.
“The fundamental principle of doing business is that people buy from people they like,” says Mark, “and I don’t think that will ever change.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION