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Tag Archives: Ed Mirvish

Stories of Honest Ed’s Bargain Store

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The first time I visited Honest Ed’s at 581 Bloor Street West was in 1950, two years after it opened. I was 12 years old that year, and was a delivery boy for the Star newspaper, in which I had seen had seen the store’s ads advertising its low prices. Located at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets, the bargain emporium derived its name from its owner, Ed Mirvish, and the store was attracting considerable attention.

I will always remember the occasion. I had a few dollars extra that I had earned on my paper route, and as I had heard that prices on puzzles and games were cheap, I accompanied my mom and grandmother to the store. We departed on a Saturday morning and arrived shortly after it opened, at 9 am. The first thing that caught my attention was the wacky signs, painted in huge letters on the walls: “We open weekdays at noon, as our staff likes to sleep in.” “If you gotta glow, you gotta glow!” “Customers glow with happiness at Ed’s amazing bargains.” “Honest Ed’s, where only the floors are crooked.” “Our service is rotten, so serve yourself.” “Honest Ed’s no beauty. Whaddya expect at these prices, a movie star?”

Entering the store, I was amazed by the crowded interior. The store was comprised of several old houses, which had been gutted and connected. It was filled with display counters that overflowed with merchandise. The floors actually did sag, but prices were indeed reasonable. I saw Ed Mirvish at one of the noisy cash registers as he rang up sales. I recognized him from a newspaper picture I had seen. My mom and grandmother departed with several bags of goods, mostly clothing, grocery items and cleaning supplies that my mom said were great bargains. I purchased a jigsaw puzzle.

Several weeks later, while delivering my newspapers, I noticed an article about Honest Ed. I read it. This was when I learned a little about Ed Mirvish. He had been born in Virginia in 1914, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. In 1923, the family moved to Toronto and opened a store on Dundas Street, where they lived above it. Ed’s father died when he was fifteen, and he took over the business.

He opened Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street in 1948, selling merchandise from bankrupt companies and fire sales. Employing humorous slogans, he was highly successful in promoting his wares. Little did I realize that during the years ahead, his store would become an institution in Toronto, and that I would eventually be a subscriber at the wonderful Royal Alexandra Theatre, which he purchased and restored.

In the 1950s, when I was in high school, I worked for one summer at the Dominion Bank on the southeast corner of Bloor Street and Dovercourt Road. In this decades, the Dominion Bank had not yet amalgamated with the Bank of Toronto to form the Toronto Dominion Bank (TD Bank). At the bank branch where I worked, Ed Mirvish’s was the most important customer. He maintained a large amount of cash in his account to be able to purchase goods from bankrupt companies. He bought the merchandise at low prices and sold them in his store at prices that undercut his competitors.

During the late 1950s, Ed’s continued to expand, eventually occupying the entire block on the south side of Bloor Street, between Bathurst and Markham Streets.   

Ed Mirvish was to enter my life again in the late-1960s. This story illustrates the type of man that he was. My family took me out to dinner for my birthday, but they kept their choice of restaurant a surprise. I inquired if I should wear a tie and jacket and my brother told me that they were unnecessary. When we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that a tie and jacket were mandatory as it was Ed’s Warehouse on King Street. The waiter offered to provide the proper attire from the jackets and ties that they kept for such situations. He explained that they required the dress code to prevent vagrants from the opposite side of King Street, where there were railroad tracks, from entering the restaurant. We were offended, as the clothes they offered were grubby looking, and we were certainly not hobos. We were wearing freshly starched sport shirts and neat trousers.

Then, Ed Mirvish appeared and inquired, “What’s the problem?”

We explained.

He smiled, apologized, and told the waiter, “Escort them to the table that has been reserved.”

We enjoyed the meal of roast beef, green peas, and mashed potatoes. The dill pickles, bread rolls, and spumoni ice cream for dessert added to our pleasure. I think the roast beef was the finest ever served in Toronto.

When the cheque arrived, Honest Ed had reduced the bill by 50 per cent.

Ed Mirvish was a very smart businessman as well as a big-hearted individual. My family never forgot his generosity.

I was very sad when I heard that Ed’s son, David Mirvish, had decided to close the store on December 31st, 2016. The bargain store was an important part of the Toronto scene for over six decades. However, with competition from online shopping and stores such as Walmart, Honest Ed’s  was no longer the attraction that it once was. As well, many of those who had shopped there regularly, had relocated to suburban homes where there were shopping in malls nearby. Times change, and those who own commercial properties must change as well.

Though I had not shopped at Honest Ed’s for many years, I will miss the bright lights and flashing signs that dominated the corner of Bathurst and Bloor.

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Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street in the 1960s, when the store occupied the entire city block from Markham to Bathurst Streets. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, S 1057, Item 0465.

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View of Ed’s, looking east on Bloor Street from Markham Street in the 1980s. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1465, fl 0622, Item 0018.

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The west facade of the store on Markham Street in the 1980s. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1465, fl 0514, Item 0020. 

Sept. 23, 2013

The east facade of Honest Ed’s on Bathurst Street on September 13, 2013.

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Night view of the store, looking east on Bloor Street from west of Bathurst Street.

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           Some of Ed’s signs posted on the front of the store.

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The northeast corner of the store at Bathurst and Bloor Streets in September 2015.

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                                      Inside the store in 2015.

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A collection of items that were once in Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant on King St. West. The display was in a window that faced Bloor St. Photo taken in 2015.

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View of the northwest corner of the store in 2015, at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets.

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Another view of the northwest corner of the store in 2015, at the corner of Markham and Bathurst Streets.

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The alley on Bloor St., located between two of the sections of the store, which were connected by a passageway on the second floor level.

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Signage of the store on the Bloor Street, which created fame for Honest Ed’s.

Below is further information on Honest Ed’s that was provided by Gerry Tsuji. I am very grateful for his input as insight such as he possesses can be so easily forgotten.

When Ed was just starting out, my dad was a cook at a restaurant on the SE corner of Bloor-Bathurst a few doors in from Bathurst.  He remembered Ed coming in for breakfast every morning, newspaper in hand.  A small pleasant man.
I don’t think he received enough credit for supplying working class folks with many of their daily necessities at prices they could afford.  My family and the families of my buddies would fall into that category.  Clothes, school supplies, toys/games, household products, even food… Ed carried it all.  His loud, garish store made a lot of people’s lives, a little bit easier.
His store continued to evolve over the years too.  From his original store located in a house to his eventual store on Bloor, I can recall a sporting goods section where he carried ice skates and hockey sticks to baseballs and mitts.  This gave way to a shoe department where he sold what we laughingly called cardboard shoes because they fell apart when wet.  He had a whole floor devoted to toys and games at one time.  For awhile, he had a little snack bar on the third floor too.  More recently, he even added a pharmacy.  He certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things.
He left behind, an incredible legacy.

Ed’s had a shoe department at one time.   I mentioned his cardboard shoes in my previous email but we also bought our running shoes there.  They were very inexpensive and they lasted an unusually long time.  Two important considerations for us at the time.  They were a strange green colour instead of the usual black-white combination and they were so heavy, it was like wearing anchors on our feet.  They were actually called running boots.  We laughed at them even then.

He also had a large toy/game department.  At one time, it occupied pretty much his entire third floor.  He sold plastic model kits which included high end Lindberg models of iconic ships like the Bismarck.  They were 36″ long, motorized so that they could be ‘programmed’ to sail in figure eights or circles and the guns would go up and down.  As kids, we’d go to Ed’s to drool over these kits.  Eventually, one of us came up with the money to buy one.  We built it, took it to High Park on our bikes and promptly managed to sink it.  Since, it was in a small pond (not Grenadier), one of my buddies bravely volunteered to wade in for it, cut his foot open and thus ended the saga of the Bismarck.
Ed’s had a decent sporting goods section too.  I remember buying CCM Comet hockey sticks there for $1.25 when the latest curved, fibreglass models sold elsewhere for $10 and more.  As plain a hockey stick as there could possibly be but they served their purpose.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. 

Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

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Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant—closed in 1999

                   King St W, looking west to Duncan - "Ed's Warehouse" – October 9, 1981

Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant on King Street West on October 9, 1981. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, file 0067, Item 0014.

In decades past, one of the most famous restaurants in Toronto was Ed’s Warehouse. Located at 266 King Street West, it was not only a place to enjoy a meal, but also a tourist attraction. For almost four decades, people visited it and invariably, it lived up to its reputation.

In the early 1960s, King Street West between Peter Street and University Avenue was sadly neglected. Adding to the difficulties was the CP Rail Yards, located on the south side of the street, where the Roy Thomson Hall is located today. Transients riding the rails were often seen on this section of King Street. Despite these considerations, Ed Mirvish purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1962 for $200,000. He was quoted as saying that the value of the land alone was worth more than the purchase price, which included the theatre.

After restoring the Royal Alexandra, Ed Mirvish faced the problem that there were no quality restaurants in the area. In 1963, he solved the difficulty by opening his own — Ed’s Warehouse. Its name was chosen as it was actually located in a former warehouse, immediately to the west side of the theatre. Ed believed that dining and theatre went together like the proverbial “horse and carriage,” so the enterprise seemed appropriate.

Crowds attending the restaurant and the theatre brought life to the street. This was not true of other projects that opened in the area in the years ahead, such as the Roy Thomson Hall (1982), and the Canadian Broadcasting Centre (1992). These buildings basically ignored the street life. Ed eventually opened more restaurants on King Street and also built the Princess of Wales Theatre. Finally, the Bell Lightbox was opened (2010), the jewel in the crown that made King Street the most important entertainment district in the city, and perhaps in all of Canada. However, it all started with The Royal Alexandra Theatre and Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant.

In its day, dining at Ed’s restaurant was an experience unequalled in Toronto. Rita Zakes of the Toronto Star wrote in July 2007 that its ambiance was like that of a Barnum and Bailey circus. Personally, I considered it “antiques, junk and Victoriana gone wild!” Along with the red-flocked wallpaper, there were huge Oriental vases, Tiffany lamps, bronze and marble statuary, an automobile, antique photographs, photos of numerous theatre stars, stained glass windows, and lamps with naked ladies on their bases. From the moment the restaurant opened, the decor became part of the attraction. Best of all, after dining in this delightfully garish atmosphere, the Royal Alexandra Theatre was only a few steps away. 

The menu was pre-set, to reduce costs. Thick, juicy, prime rib was accompanied by mashed potatoes, green peas, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy. Garlic bread and dill pickles were also included. The dessert was spumoni ice cream. Critics jokingly stated that the menu was so easy to prepare that Ed had fired his chef and gave the job to the parking attendant. The critics had obviously never attempted to cook prime rib.

The restaurant was so successful that Ed Mirvish expanded and opened Ed’s Seafood, Ed’s Chinese, Ed’s Italian and Ed’s Folly (a lounge). In Ed’s Warehouse, men were required to wear a jacket and tie, this requirement maintained long after other dining establishments eliminated the tradition. However, Old Ed’s restaurant offered lower prices and was more casual.

In 1971, I subscribed to the Mirvish theatre series. When my first tickets arrived in the mail, I received two complimentary coupons for Ed’s Warehouse. If I remember correctly, each coupon had a value of $20, which covered the entire cost of the meal. These were indeed the “good old days.”

In the 1970s, when the Mirvish restaurants were at their height of popularity, they had a combined capacity of 2300 seats and often served 6000 meals a day. In this same decade, Toronto Calendar Magazine, which later merged with Toronto Life, sponsored a contest to determine the best restaurant in the financial district. Over 10,000 people voted, and out of the 21 restaurants listed, Ed’s Warehouse was #1. Despite this accolade, I read online some very critical reviews of the food at Ed’s Warehouse. However, I considered the beef, which was imported from Chicago, among the finest I have ever experienced.  

One year on my birthday, my family told me that they were taking me out to dinner, but they kept their choice of restaurant a surprise. I inquired if I should wear a tie and jacket and was told that they were unnecessary. When we arrived, we discovered that a tie and jacket were indeed mandatory, as it was Ed’s Warehouse. The waiter offered to provide jackets and ties from among those that they kept for such situations. He explained that the dress code was necessary to prevent vagrants from across the street at the railroad yards from entering the establishment. We were offended, as the clothes they offered were grubby looking, and we were certainly not hobos. We were wearing freshly-ironed sport shirts and neat trousers.

Then, Ed Mirvish appeared and inquired, “What’s the problem?”

We explained.

He smiled, apologized, and told the waiter, “Escort them to the table that has been reserved.”

We enjoyed the meal and when the cheque arrived, it had been reduced by 50 per cent. Ed was a very smart businessman as well as a big-hearted individual. My family never forgot his generosity.

Similar to all good times, the Mirvish restaurants finally disappeared. Ed cancelled his dining license in December 1999. When reporters asked him about the closings, he quipped that he was tired of doing dishes. The city was never the same. This will also be said when his discount store, “Honest Ed’s,” closes in December 2016.

To paraphrase Ed Mirvish, “Ed’s Warehouse was one of a kind. Often imitated, but never duplicated.”  

Sources: kingbluecondos.com, www.robertfulford.com, and www.liquisearch.com 

Corner of Duncan St. and King St., looking north-east

Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant in 1972, Toronto Archives, S 0841, fl. 0052, It. 0024. 

1978, Tor. P.L.  rj250-1[1]

Gazing east on King Street in 1978, Ed’s many restaurants visible on the north side of the street. Toronto Public Library, rj-250.

                                  King St W - "Ed's Warehouse" restaurant - signage – October 9, 1981

Sign outside Ed’s Warehouse on August 9, 1981, displaying the menu and notifying men of the dress code. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl. 0067, Item 0018.

 

                               King St W, east across Duncan - "Ed's Warehouse" – October 9, 1981

Looking east on King Street on October 9, 1981, Ed’s various restaurants visible. Ed’s Warehouse is in the distance, on the west side of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Duncan Street separates Ed’s Warehouse from the other restaurants. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1525, Fl. 0067, It. 0015. 

King St W at Duncan - "Ed's Warehouse" restaurant – August 6, 1983  King St W - "Ed's Warehouse" restaurant - outside, detail – August 6, 1983

Photos and newspaper clippings outside Ed’s Warehouse on King Street on August 6, 1983. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 0067, Item 0022 (left photo) and Item 0021 (right photo).

ebay   [1]  Chuckman's  postcard-toronto-eds-warehouse-restaurant-270-king-w-dining-room-late-1960s[1]

(Left) Menu from Ed’s Warehouse that is for sale on ebay, and (right) the interior of Ed’s Warehouse from Chuckman’s Postcard Collection.

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I am grateful to a reader who emailed me a copy of the menu at Ed’s Warehouse. Perusing it brought back many fond memories of evenings spent looking over this menu to decide which “cut” to order.  The prices on the menu give true meaning to the phrase, “The good old days.” 

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Items that were previously in Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant. In this photo, they were on display in Honest Ed’s Discount store at Bathurst and Bloor Streets, in July 2013.

  King and Duncan

The building on King Street where Ed’s Warehouse was located. Photo taken in 2014. 

For a link to memories of other Toronto Restaurants of the past:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/memories-of-torontos-restaurants-of-the-past/

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the Toronto Life article: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published by Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

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