Honest Eds

Only the floors are crooked!

I had moved to Toronto to attend College. I was a student, working my way through and living hand to mouth. Someone told me about this place where I could stretch my money.

In 2017, they tore it down. Please join me and my special guest, D.G. Kaye, a fellow blogger, writer and Torontonian, while we take a look at what was, and the creature it has become! First a bit of history.

D.G. Kaye – Honest Eds was an iconic landmark to the people of Toronto. It was one of our first bargain basement type structures that sold a lot of low-end stuff with everything from food to vacuums. It was pre, our Dollar Store days, even pre, Bi-way (what was known as a bargain franchise that came along after). Honest Eds was erected in 1948 and was torn down for yet, more condo buildings in 2017.

1950’s – uncredited

The store took up two blocks, facing one of our famous streets, Bloor St., as well as the side street, Markham St. where Mirvish bought up homes to expand the store.  Originally, Honest Eds had the front door of the business on the Markham St. side because the taxes were cheaper than having the entrance on the front of Bloor St. Through the years of buying up surrounding properties, Ed Mirvish eventually extended Honest Eds two blocks long to the corner of Bathurst and Bloor streets, complete with a walkway, known as the Honest Ed Alley.

Resa – I adored walking down Honest Ed Alley, pictured above. I always found street art on my way there. Below, Honest Ed Alley today.

D.G Kaye – Besides the iconic structure, the people who shopped there, and its vast size that grew through the decades, Eds was also known for its great signage, just one of many, ““Welcome, don’t faint at our low prices, there’s no place to lie down”,  full of cleverly written puns as advertising lure, and vast lighting that made one feel like they were entering a carnival – or Christmas.

Resa –  I’ll never forget the first time I saw Honest Eds. It was like a midway without rides. My heart pounded, as my eyes widened. Debby, do you remember the first time you saw Honest Eds? How did you react?

D.G. Kaye – Do I remember? In some of my books I write about my childhood, having to spend every weekend at my grandparents’ house. When I became observant by the age six, I remember passing that corner when my Jewish-Orthodox grandmother (we were not) would take me and my two younger brothers at the time, for a Saturday afternoon longgg walk from her house, just west of Spadina, near Casa Loma, where we’d walk to Bathurst St. and pass Honest Eds as we walked down to see my grandfather at the family business, further south from Bloor.

D.G. Kaye -My grandmother wouldn’t use anything electrical on the Sabbath, so it was a long walk, lol. But my eyes lit up at the glitz and the feeling of amusement park, many Saturdays, it was always a busy corner. I always wanted to go in, but no shopping or money used by her on Sabbath, lol. Only after I moved away from home at 18, did I venture into Ed’s bargain basement prices, a place of everything and anything. Those were golden days.

Above- the way it was just after closing. Below – The way it is now.

Resa – How did you react when you saw the new Honest Eds corner above?

D.G.Kaye – It’s sad to look there when you knew what was there for your whole life. A lot of what’s become of our city makes me sad. It doesn’t have the same anything anymore. Like many other things in life that seem to be fading from our city, it’s another end of an era, the golden days of past. So I’m happy to be reminiscing about it here today with you.

Resa –  Likewise! You mentioned  the funny signage on the building. It sure made me laugh. My fave was “Don’t just stand there buy something!”

D.G. Kaye – I loved their marketing. I didn’t think about the marketing aspect of it when I was younger. But looking back at those hand-made signs, I have to admit how clever the advertising was for back then using puns in their marketing. Very clever and entertaining.

Resa – Markham Street was like a throwback from hippy daze. It was lined with cool cafes, handicraft shops and of course, Mirvish Books, one of Canada’s oldest and most popular independent bookstores.

D.G. Kaye – Exactly. It’s those little nook and cranny places that we knew about and visited that were part of the interest that our city had with its diversity. Places where people could meet other people with similar interests. Now it’s condo mania and people attached to their cell phones. The social aspect has diminished in so many ways.

 Sometimes it’s best not to look back just because of things like this, the big teardown of an era.

Resa – Gate 3 is Markham Street now. There is a house with art on it, but I couldn’t get in. Looks like there are still a few houses left, and looks like they are being torn down.

Resa – It was a crazy up and down labyrinth inside. I always got lost, and I always had fun.  Debby, I feel sad. I have a sense of loss, and not just loss. I have a feeling of impending doom about the future. Am I over reacting? Do I make any sense?

D.G. Kaye – It was like a funhouse lol. I’m 100% with your feeling. It does feel sad because it was a symbol and part of the times, our times. We lived in such a great time, and the city was much different back then. I found the city much more interesting back then. I loved Bloor/Bathurst area through my twenties. They had great authentic international restaurants, especially, a few great Hungarian restaurants I frequented often. It feels like the little great hotspots we both knew in our heydays have been taken over by condo buildings everywhere and big businesses, with now traffic laden streets and crime.

Resa – Debby, I found this art of Honest Ed (dated 2017) in an alley near by.

D.G. Kaye – This is such a great likeness in caricature of Ed.

Resa – Honest Ed began the practice of giving away 1,ooo turkeys every Christmas, in 1989. As a veggie, I was somewhat freaked out. However, the people that lined up were not well heeled. Were you aware that Honest Ed gave away 1,ooo turkeys every Christmas? Now Westbank, the corporation redeveloping the site where Honest Ed’s once stood, is keeping the tradition alive.

D.G. Kaye – I didn’t know that for a long time, and honestly, I think you’ve just reminded me for a second time. I’m glad to hear that he was that charitable. I’m also glad to hear the new corporation is going to keep up that tradition.

Resa – Does that make you feel any better about the redevelopment?

D.G. Kaye – I think it’s a great gesture, but no. I don’t feel that iconic corner should look like more building towers. It was a historic landmark – just like what they did with Maple Leaf Gardens. Don’t get me started. 

Resa – Debby, I found this in the same alley as the Honest Ed art. For those who don’t know, the Annex is the area of Toronto which we have been talking about, where Honest Eds was located.

Resa – Debby, I can’t thank you enough for being here today. I’m not sure if what Honest Ed’s has been replaced with is progress, or a Tower of Babel. I do know that I think it is ugly, unfriendly and that I could not have done this post without you.

D.G. Kaye – Lol Resa, you make me smile. I love your forthrightness. You remind me of me. And it sounds like we both wear our hearts on our sleeves. I think that’s an artist thing. I’m with you – a Tower of Babel. I love your honesty, and your giving me the freedom to write here like you – brutally honest. This was so much fun sharing this experience with you. I’m always in awe of the artwork you’re always discovering. It was my pleasure collaborating with you here at your blog. 🧡


D.G. Kaye is a nonfiction/memoir writer, writing from her life experiences and self-medicating with a daily dose of humour. Live Laugh Love and Don’t Forget to Breathe! {click on her pic and go to her blog!}

Pics taken by Resa – 2017 & 2022 (save the old b&w – uncredited)

Toronto, Canada

The Artists:

A friend gave me a gift from one of the handmade signs inside Honest Eds. Everything was sold. These signs sold for $2.00.  A few months later I saw them framed and for sale at a curio place. $125.00. They sold in a week.