The Honest Ed’s department store run by Ed Mirvish and the Mirvish family in Toronto, from 1948 to 2016, was a Toronto
landmark. Ed Mirvish would hold a birthday party for himself and a turkey give-away at Christmas, the wild, wild store
was one of the percursors of the Dollar Stores and big box stores. Ed Mirvish sadly passed away in 2007. The huge
light bulb sign has been kept and is being refurbished to be placed on the Ed Mirvish Theatre at Yonge and Dundas.
I thought this was great idea, a piece of memorabilia of the old Honest Ed’s saved for memories of. The site is to be
turned into Community rental apartments.
“Only the lonely
(Dum, dum, dum, dumy-do, ah)
Know the way I feel tonight”
- from Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison
. . . And who could forget Honest Ed’s, mad, campy, huge as a football field taking up one entire block on Bloor Street, a stone’s throw from Bathurst Street Subway, as if walking into an incredible existentialist heaven/hell invented in the later 20th century. On a dark night lit up like a Christmas tree with thousands of light bulbs and a big sign in red printing, I didn’t know if I loved the sign, but it was big and it was brilliant, everything said carnival. From the window were a long line of ceramic busts of Elvis in a blue scarf, when you went in old mirrors lining up the stairs with chandeliers, and no matter how hard you tried to find something, in the miasma of the over-produced, over-industrialized pre-apocalypse big biggie, usually I had no monies or could not find anything I needed, leading to the incredible Zen of nothingness, the sky opening up with the fresh air of the winter night, emerging into the street empty-handed.
It was the store of the pearly kings, loads and loads of cheezy, kitchsy merchandise for not too much monies, up 4 flights of stairs, a restaurant in the middle and a connecting walkway, even if you knew the store well you could end up somewhere exactly where you did not want to be and without even trying. Far be it from me to say that I was lost because you could at least always find the exit...eventually. It was so big, if you weren’t careful you could become separated from and even lose friend’s in there. And there were these funny signs, puns, all hand painted, like something right out of a carnival fun house.
I would on the rare occasion haunt the clothing sections, huge bins of seconds, sometimes firsts, the men’s section, shirts, sweaters, underwear and the women’s section bras and underwear, socks. I can remember on numerous occasions searching for underwear, but it was never the right colour, never the right size, not cotton, perhaps too much monies. After a few attempts between winters, at spending at least half an hour to an hour routing through the bins, I would inevitably come up empty-handed. So I just stopped looking for underwear there, came to the conclusion that I didn’t need it, and stopped wearing underwear.
Somehow, I loved the men’s clothing section, there were bins and bins piled high with sweaters. And you could even find the right size, something big and roomy but they were never in the right material. They were usually some form of viscose or mixed wool, until one winter I noticed what appeared to be a natural fiber green avocado sweater. Excitedly, I checked the tag and it was cotton, and they were big. But I did not need a new sweater. After heading down and seeing these beautiful green sweaters still there on 2 or 3 separate occasions, each time discounted even more and more, I still did not need a sweater but bought one anyway, in the anticipation of the day I would need a sweater, which usually happened every couple of years.
And often haunting the food section, you sometimes could find big bags of sour gummy candy and sometimes special cookies and even sometimes a big box of green tea, often at good prices but if you had no monies, you could wish them on sale and sometimes they were.
And, it was like some mad U.K. carnival, just huge and campy, as if some existential nightmare of a miasma of all the stuff you didn’t need, and if you needed it you couldn’t afford it but not usually because the prices were too expensive, just because you didn’t have a lot of monies. On any given Saturday afternoon you could get lost in it. If you were especially lucky you would see Old Ed himself walking in the aisles, but be not quite certain if it was him or his brother or just someone who looked like Ed, so I would just sort of wave in my head, the awkwardness of not having anything to say on the fly, to his broken thoughts of "wondering where to begin with this one", my customary silence unbroken as he quietly slipped back to his office.
Once I remember at the checkout seeing an older Italian lady with a cart full of laundry soap, about 30 big bars of soap all stuffed into a huge plastic bag at the cash. At the time I wondered what she would do with all that soap, wouldn’t it be enough to have one or two bars and come back for more, my guess is it was on sale and she used it all the time, maybe the only store in town with that brand of soap from the old country. Well now that the old store is being torn down, where will she get her laundry soap? Maybe she still has some stored in the cupboard.
As the curtain falls on this existential wasteland of the vomitosa of industrial-era merchandise of the indubitably witch witchery Honest Ed’s emporium perhaps we can move on more cheerily to the post-apocalypse, maybe without the violence, a place of the New Age Renaissance Republique, sunshine love lives, happily married for the longterm on a positive SignfromGod, and poetry as we cheerily wave from the large windows of some clean, inexpensive brand new Community apartments cast in the soul light of the New Age.