Farewell to Honest Ed’s, 1948 to 2016

December 28, 2016 | Barbara Myrvold

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Honest Ed’s is closing its doors for good on December 31. The legendary bargain store has been a major feature of the Bloor West streetscape since 1948 when 34-year-old Toronto entrepreneur Edwin “Honest Ed” Mirvish started Canada's first discount retail store at the southeast corner of Bloor and Markham streets. Mirvish eventually extended his retail complex eastward along Bloor to the southwest corner of Bathurst Street, and connected the east and west sections by a walkway crossing “Honest Ed Alley”.

Honest Ed exterior

Honest Ed's, 1986 (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Archives)

Touted on its website as “A landmark for tourists and an entertaining shopping experience for all,” Honest Ed's is renowned for the thousands of colourful lights on its exterior advertising the name of the store. 

The bright lights - described as being "lit up like a theatre marquee" "giving the area a bit of a Las Vegas look" - are a reminder of the enormous contribution that the Mirvishes have made to Toronto's performing arts scene since Ed saved the Royal Alexandra Theatre from destruction back in 1963. 

Books by and about Ed Mirvish at Toronto Public Library

Honest Ed's is also famous for its humorous, pun-heavy signs declaring such messages as

  • “Welcome, don't faint at our low prices, there's no place to lie down”
  • "Only the floors are crooked!"
  • "We don't offer service. We have a slogan - serve yourself and save a lot of money."

Honest Ed's quirky signs Honest Ed's, 1982 (Toronto Public Library. Toronto Star Archives)

Many of the store's hand-painted show card signs were offered for sale this fall, and Toronto Public Library purchased three small ones for the Baldwin Collection of Canadiana. They list "'Ed's' Price!" for juice glasses (35 cents each), assorted tarts ($2.99) and a stainless steel sauce pan with lid ($7.99).  The Library also will keep the plastic shopping bag that held the signs, which proclaims “There is only one Honest Ed’s in the world! Aren’t you glad it’s here in Toronto! Bloor and Bathurst”.    

  Honest Ed's sign sale 2016 Nov 3Sign sale, November 3, 2016

The store often has attracted large crowds looking for bargains ... 

Honest Ed's Bargains Boxing Day 27 December 1986                Boxing Day, 1986 (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Archives)  

or celebrities such as actor and professional wrestler Mr. T. (Laurence Tureaud)...

  Honest Ed's Mr T 1984

Mr. T fans at Honest Ed's, 1984 (Toronto Public Library. Toronto Star Archives)

or turkey giveaways at Christmas or free hot dogs, cake and candy at the annual public birthday parties that Ed started for himself in 1988 and which were continued after his death in 2007 as anniversary parties for the store itself.  

In the late 1950s, Mirvish began to buy the houses on the east side of Markham between Bloor and Lennox Street, with the intention of replacing them with a parking lot for "Honest Ed's". When the City refused the proposal, Mirvish opened the "Markham Street Art Colony" (Mirvish Village) with restaurants, outdoor cafes, crafts and antique shops, and artists' studios. 

Markham Street Village Mirvish Village, 1964 (Toronto Public Library. Toronto Star Archives)

Mirvish also acquired houses on the west side of the street where he reserved buildings for wife Anne’s sculpting studio and son David's art gallery (started in the early 1960s to exhibit abstract artists and colour field painters and sculptors) and book store (operated 1974-2009). 

David Mirvish Gallery exhibition catalogues at Toronto Public Library

The gallery had exhibited abstract artists and colour field painters and sculptors since the early 1960s, - See more at: https://www.mirvish.com/david-mirvish-books#sthash.O8hzmvMY.dpuf

  Jack Bush at David Mirvish Gallery 1975

Canadian artist Jack Bush (1909-77) at David Mirvish Gallery, November 1975

(Toronto Public Library. Toronto Star Archives)

On July 16, 2013, it was announced that the Mirvish site was for sale for $100 million; the purchase by Vancouver-based Westbank Properties was announced in October 2013.  The redeveloped property is to be subdivided into zones with residential rental towers, retail storefronts, new pedestrian lanes, and a woonerf on Markham Street. However, the iconic Honest Ed's signs will not be part of the redevelopment. 

The redevelopment proposal has generated some concerns, and in 2015-16, the city undertook a major planning study of the “Bloor Bathurst Four Corners”. 

Whatever happens, this block of Bloor Street will never be the same. Huge thanks to the Mirvish family for providing bargains and entertainment for the last 68 years.