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Sure, his species of entrepreneur is as wildly outdated as the store itself, with its crooked floorboards, picked-over clothing, shelves crammed with obscure European biscuits, and deep DVD bins ripe for discovery.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