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King of Kitsch: So long Honest Ed’s

When I first moved to Toronto as a young student, I was much too poor to afford even Honest Ed’s discounted prices. My very first job out of journalism school was as a reporter at a community newspaper a couple of blocks north of the Bloor and Bathurst Street landmark, so I walked by its flashing billboards almost daily for two years. Since then, I’ve dropped in occasionally to check out the bargains and the crazy kitsch (rows of gold Elvis busts!).

I decided to soak up the garish atmosphere one last time before the store—founded in 1948 by the flamboyant entrepreneur Ed Mirvish—closes for good on December 31, 2016. As usual, Honest Ed’s didn’t disappoint.

Last week, as I navigated the heaps of T-shirts, bed linens, frying pans and other dry goods spread throughout the ramshackle and dilapidated interior, I was delighted to stumble upon some truly bizarre items.

Honest Ed’s is renowned for its eccentric billboards (“Honest Ed’s a nut! But look at the ‘cashew’ save!!”), not to mention the whimsical hand-lettered signage.

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Throughout 2016, customers have had the opportunity to purchase the distinctive blue-and-red signs created by artists Wayne Reuben, on the job for 50 years, and Douglas Kerr, a 20-year staffer.

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By the time I made my final pilgrimage, all of the really hilarious ones had already been snapped up although you can find some gems for sale on eBay.

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In honour of the Honest Ed’s legacy—to the city and the local community—the Toronto Transit Commission recently commissioned an art installation at the nearby Bathurst Street subway station. The tribute features some very punny signs, as well as historical information and photos. #HonestEdStation

 

While the retailer will close its doors permanently in less than two weeks, Honest Ed’s final send-off will take place in February as a three-day community festival inside the former store. Toronto For Everyone, an initiative of the Centre for Social Innovation, will feature multidisciplinary, immersive and interactive experiences, February 23-26, 2017.

And then, it will be time for the wrecking ball. The property, including the store and adjacent Mirvish Village on Markham Street, is being redeveloped by new owner Westbank Projects Corp. and its project partners: Henriquez Partners Architects, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg & Studio, and E.R.A. Architects.

Here’s how Westbank and team have reimagined the Honest Ed’s site:

“Instead of architecture that is monolithic, Mirvish Village will be an innovative collection of smaller buildings with a fine grain character and generous public spaces that put pedestrians and community interaction first. Instead of the token retention of façades, we will conserve most of the Victorian homes on Markham Street, renewing them as key portions of a vital and diverse residential/retail community.”

Read more about the Honest Ed’s property redevelopment plan.

 

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