One Last Trip to Honest Ed’s

The iconic red and yellow marquee on Toronto’s Bloor Street will soon be shutting off its 23,000 blinking lights for good.

Honest Ed’s, the city’s premier discount emporium, is set to close its doors on December 31. After nearly 70 years in business, the beloved landmark will make way for condos, boutiques, and something called a “woonerf.”

Notorious for its rock-bottom prices, hand-painted signage, maze of floors, and ghostly portraits of forgotten actors, the store is set to just fade away. For years, Honest Ed’s welcomed generations of shoppers to pass through its squeaky, antiquated turnstiles. Now, all that history will be lost to time.


At Honest Ed’s customers are expected to take a hands-on approach when poking about heaps of garments. Photo by Myles Herod

Indeed, Ed’s is an emblem of Toronto that dates back to 1948. T.O.’s original big box store, Honest Ed’s Bargain House anticipated the popularity of today’s discount retail chains by decades. Yet the iconic retail outlet always stood for something more than profits.

Founder Ed Mirvish, who died in 2007, saw the store as an extension of his own selflessness. Helping those in need, the son of a Lithuanian immigrant earned fame by giving back to the community time and time again. A showman in the classic sense, Mirvish’s annual holiday turkey giveaway drew thousands, much like the puns and quirky slogans that marked his shop walls and displays for generations.

Sure, his species of entrepreneur is as wildly outdated as the store itself, with its crooked floorboards, picked-over clothing, shelves crammed with obscure European biscuits, and deep DVD bins ripe for discovery.


A prophetic sign? Rummaging the $1.99 DVD bin yields everything from B-movies to titillating foreign titles. Photo by Myles Herod

Herein lies the charm, though: The inimitable kitsch of the whole Honest Ed’s experience. So strange and gaudy, that after getting lost inside, it begins to feel like a museum.

Founder Ed Mirvish saw the store as an extension of his own selflessness. Helping those in need, the son of a Lithuanian immigrant earned fame by giving back to the community time and time again.

In addition to the old-fashioned interior, there is something of substance hidden inside the house that Ed built. For new Canadians, cash-strapped students or anyone looking for a deal, Honest Ed’s was a wonderland wrapped in a time machine.


The perfect compliment to a pair of adult cowboy chaps located in the far reaches of the third floor. Photo by Myles Herod

In addition to the old-fashioned interior, there is something of substance hidden inside the house that Ed built.

Alas, the handouts have ceased. As an unabashed fan, I find myself visiting more frequently upon learning of the store’s fate.

As I stroll the aisles and troll the bins in search of bargains, I reflect on what I’ve learned by exploring the enigma that is Honest Ed’s. Here’s what I found.


You can take Honest Ed’s out of the city, but not out of the loyal customer. Photo by Carlo Carosi

How to Dress Well

Stacked racks and messy mounds of clothes line the walls of Honest Ed’s upper floors. Anything from pastel blazers to one’s favourite gingham pattern can be unearthed in more ways than one. Be warned, don’t dig too deep.


Threads by famed discount designer Marco Donateli with colours ranging from apricot to periwinkle. Photo by Myles Herod


Finding a blanket to serendipitously match a shirt is one of many charms found at Honest Ed’s. Photo by Myles Herod


With so many styles to choose from, it sometimes demands thinking outside the box to uncover a new look. Photo by Myles Herod

Art of the Deal

Selling nothing but bargains at bargain prices, Honest Ed’s lasting legacy is its flair for zany publicity. Painstakingly hand-painted signs, courtesy of Douglas Kerr and Wayne Rueben, have been a cherished in-house tradition for decades.


Two early bird youngsters look through piles of signs on the final weekend of the iconic sign sale on October 22, 2016. Photo by Myles Herod


A pretty penny is paid when procuring a piece of Honest Ed’s history. This sign fetching $85.00. Photo by Myles Herod


With slogans slapped all over the store, one feels at home while indulging in cheese sticks and Danish butter cookies. Photo by Myles Herod

Shrine of the Forgotten

For anyone that has set foot in Honest Ed’s, one thing is certain, he worshipped celebrity. Like peeling discoloured wall-paper, dusty portraits of Frank Sinatra, Liberace and Deborah Kerr hang in its cavernous stairwells. Gaze higher and you are sure to catch rows of old Hollywood head shots, looming like monochromatic spectres to those below. To Ed, they were all stars.


‘Joe Average’ Dane Clark was voted 16th most popular movie star in 1945. Little information can be found on Dale Melbourne. Photo by Myles Herod


Ed Mirvish’s penchant for hobnobbing with bygone Hollywood giants remains enshrined for everyone to see. Or quietly ponder. Photo by Myles Herod


There’s no telling whether Ed knew all these supposed actors. Today, the portraits imbue the store with a sense of melancholy. Photo by Myles Herod

That’s all Folks

Today’s modern world has passed Honest Ed’s by. There is a humour, a heart, and a shameless style that will be buried along with its name. Aisles once filled to the brim with merchandise are now empty spaces signifying a final gasp. Say goodbye while you can. It’s been a tremendous run. Toronto thanks you.


Bidding adieu the best way they know how. Remember, memories are free. Photo by Myles Herod


Ausie’s Hair Design, presumably unaltered since the ’90s. Note the yellow rope, unintentionally evoking a museum ambience. Photo by Myles Herod


History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later. All sales are final. Oh, and don’t get caught in the turnstile!’ Photo by Myles Herod