The legacy of A&B Sound

Illustration by Anastasia Simonovich

A&B Sound was known for its legendary Boxing Day sale where electronics fans and music-loving diehards would camp outside the Seymour store location, oftentimes in cold, freezing weather. 

The pre-internet retail giant was the primary place for music lovers for decades
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist

Record stores are as scarce as free-flowing traffic on the Lions Gate Bridge during rush hour. One store that was a retail fixture in the Lower Mainland for music buyers during the pre-internet era was A&B Sound.   

A&B Sound was the prime store that contained everything to satisfy your music-craving needs: LPs, cassettes, VHS tapes, LaserDiscs, CDs and DVDs. The company also sold a wide range of electronics: TVs, VCRs, Hi-Fi systems, CD players, DVD players, car stereo equipment and computers. The store first opened in 1959 in downtown Vancouver by Fred Steiner. In 1970, it moved to 556 Seymour Street. A&B Sound was known for its legendary Boxing Day sale where electronics fans and music-loving diehards would camp outside the Seymour store location, oftentimes in cold, freezing weather.  

The store was well-known for its advertising as television, radio and newspaper ads were frequent. In a November 2018 story about A&B Sound, Global News stated the company took pride in selling an extensive catalogue of music at low prices: “Their relentless pursuit of bargain prices frustrated competitors and distributors. In its prime, it had enough size and influence to ensure that customers in western Canada enjoyed some of the lowest music prices in North America.”

A&B Sound had stores in Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby and Coquitlam. Another store opened in Kelowna followed by expansion into Alberta with Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer all gaining storefronts. Then more stores opened in Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

Global News reported in the same story that many musical acts—especially from the 1980s—made appearances at A&B Sound to meet and greet fans. Acts like Glass Tiger, Platinum Blonde and Maestro Fresh Wes all made appearances at the store. Unfortunately, a 1997 visit by Marilyn Manson to the Seymour Street store turned ugly with fans breaking the front window.      

But the advent of music downloading services like Napster and other file-sharing software in the late 1990s; marked a significant turning point for the once giant of the electronic retail industry. Lane Orr was A&B Sound’s former vice-president of the flagship location on Seymour Street. He stated the internet and music downloading services played a key role in the store’s eventual demise. Orr also said another contributor was the store’s liberal return policy. “We started to see Napster and all those things come along and we had what you’d call ‘burn and return,’” Orr told Global News. “We had a lot of people coming in, they’d pick up a CD and they’d burn it and bring it back and say it’s defective. Return policies allowed that. As soon as things went digital, it became a much different animal.”

In addition, the company attempted to expand to online sales. However, Orr says it was just too difficult trying to compete with other giant retail stores. “We were a bricks-and-mortar chain and we just never really went at it because I think deep down we knew that that just wasn’t the model,” he said. “At that time, we had Best Buy coming in from the US doing a few billion dollars a year and they bought Future Shop and so it was one of those things. Do you want to pour money down this sinkhole?”

In November 2008, A&B Sound declared bankruptcy; leading to the closing of all stores in Western Canada and ending an era that lasted for nearly 50 years. The Seymour Street location closed three months prior. In 2021, the store made a comeback; in the form of clothing wear. Vancouver Is Awesome reported in May 2021 that ‘BC Is Awesome’ ( an affiliate company) released a set of A&B Sound T-shirts, followed by hooded sweatshirts. The clothing apparel is proudly printed in East Vancouver and is the latest in a set of throwback garments the company has created including Luvafair T-shirts, Beaver Lumber and others.

David Ian Gray, a retail analyst with DIG360, told Global News it is sad that A&B Sound closed but that there was nothing the legendary store could have done after the arrival of online music: “It’s just one of those iconic stories of the death of a sector because of the internet and no matter how good they were they just weren’t able to withstand what was happening with online music.”