Play de Record, at 357 Yonge Street, is a paragon of adaptation. Opened in 1990, behind a convenience store and with only records and tapes for sale, it has since taken over the front of the building and gone on to become the primo destination for seasoned DJs in need of the latest equipment, as well as upstarts looking to pick up new skills at Play de Academy. Play also sells new and used electronic/dance music you can’t find anywhere else in the city, concert tickets (minus the murderous Ticketmaster convenience fees), printed t-shirts, designer headphones, and rare merchandise.
With vinyl at the front and back, and CD sections like “Abstract Beats” and “Neo-Soul” in between, it’s not hard to find something you’ve never heard before amongst the wall-to-wall collections of soca, jazz, dancehall, hip hop, reggae, and much, much more. Recent favourites playing on the shop’s sound system include Rapsody, José James, and The Robert Glasper Experiment.
Eugene Tam, the shop’s owner, and a born and bred Trinidadian, is nearing his twenty-third year with Play de Record. Having previously run a pizza vending business and a supermarket in Chinatown, Tam is a tested entrepreneur
“My dad had a connection with a lady with jukeboxes all over the island,” said Tam. “He made a deal with her for thousands and thousands of records. He owned [357 Yonge Street], and the back was empty for a few months, so I said we should open a record store.”
The younger Tam started Steppin’ Bigga Records in 1993, releasing tracks for artists such as Apple and Orange, Freaks of Reality, Jelleestone, in-house producer 2Rude, and Saukrates (specifically his “Still Caught Up,” which was nominated for Best Rap Recording at the 1996 Junos). “From the beginning, I wanted to be involved with independent artists,” Tam said, “and show people what they were all about.”
But when Napster surfaced, Tam closed the Steppin’ Bigga label and diversified. He started stocking Play de Record with everything from artist merchandise, to music software, mixers and controllers. You can even rent lights from the shop to add a little extra swagger to your next gig.
“Two decades ago, people came to Yonge Street if they wanted to buy music,” Tam recalled. “Now, with all the malls, people don’t need to come downtown no more. We’ve always watched out for trends, though. Hip hop would go down one year, but house music was kickin’; then, when house music was slowly going, there was dance music to fall back on; and in winter, when everything was quiet, we had soca. Catering to all genres is the best thing I ever did, because when one type of music dies, and that’s all you focused on, you got nothing else. There’s a cycle for everything.”
You can stop in at Play de Record and meet the kind staff, or visit its online store.