What Honest Ed's used to look like back in the day
Honest Ed's will close its doors forever on December 31, 2016. While this date has been known for some time, for many the news hasn't really set in that the iconic retailer at Bloor and Bathurst will be no more in less than two months. It has been a fixture in this city since 1948.
While tributes like the one at Bathurst Station will help to keep the store in Toronto's thoughts, they can't fill the gap that will be left when someone from the neighbourhood goes looking for a deal on small appliances or long underwear. Yes, there are other shops, but the size and diversity of Honest Ed's stock made it a community staple, right down to its annual turkey giveaways.
Much will be missed about the place, including the quirky building itself. This is Toronto's palace of kitsch, a remaining bit of ostentatiousness in a city where the streetscape is steadily being sanitized. It was never in good taste, but as the years wore on, this quality actually become more endearing as the neighbourhood and city changed around it.
It's always been a gaudy place, but the most recognizable aspect of the store, its massive light bulb-strewn sign, is not as old as some might imagine. It dates back to 1984 when the store expanded east from what is now referred to as Honest Ed's Alley.
This was the last in a series of expansions that took the store from its humble roots as a small space at 581 Bloor St. West called The Sports Bar in 1943 to a full sized discount department store that occupied a number of city blocks.
Over that period, the sign and facade changed many times, though the loud, lowbrow aesthetic has remained since the days of Ed and Annie Mirvish's first shop back in the mid 1940s. One reason why many of us connect with this kitschiness is that we remember a Toronto that was more overtly working class in its makeup and appearance.
Honest Ed's might have cultivated a circus-like atmosphere, but it always felt real. So many of us remember being taken on shopping trips to the store as children. I recall hating them, but the place left an imprint on me.
It's difficult to memorialize a place like Honest Ed's without enacting a hopeless nostalgia that would turn its nose up at Toronto's growth over the last half century (a very foolish thing to do), but something important will certainly be lost when it closes its doors.
The store was unique. It wasn't a chain with locations elsewhere. It was undeniably a part of Toronto, and it grew up with the city, giving back not just little things like turkeys but also Mirvish Village and a cultural enterprise that lives on today. These are things worth remembering when the lights go dim.
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