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cityscape

Panoramaist: Honest Ed’s

A 360-degree look at an empty Honest Ed's, just before the store's 65th-birthday celebration.

Panoramaist is the Toronto shoe-gazer’s worst enemy. In the virtual panoramas, created by Tony Makepeace, you can look up, down, side to side, in, and out—pretty much every direction but back at yourself, which would be kind of creepy.

What do we talk about when we talk about Honest Ed’s? What do we talk about when we talk about Honest Ed’s potentially closing, now that the property is up for sale for $100 million?

Any way you look at it, Honest Ed’s is a cause for controversy. As a building, it’s either a Toronto landmark or an “eyesore.” As a business, it’s either respected for leading development in the Annex, or a relic from a time when discount stores were rare finds. As a service, it’s either an essential spot for low-income residents to get household items, clothing, and food for “crazy” prices, or an antiquated and underused block of space that no longer appeals to the neighbourhood it helped create.

On Sunday, only a few days after the prospect of the store being sold to a developer was brought to public attention, Honest Ed’s held a birthday party to celebrate 65 years of life. But before hordes of shoppers arrived for a day full of 25-cent bargains, magic shows, balloon animals, and free hot dogs and tiny cakes, Torontoist got a sneak peek at the Ed’s we don’t usually see: one that’s quiet and calm. The bins look ancient, so do the signs. The piles of clothes are haphazard and messy. The store is full of hand-painted clutter that would never be seen in any modern retail outlet. The ceiling and floors both look dirty and pockmarked. The place is, frankly, an eyesore.

Then the customers came. There were families, friends, and solo shoppers speaking, browsing, and getting lost together. There was a 57-year-old daycare teacher named Pauline Levert, who was working her way through the day’s deals, picking up items for herself, her husband, and her students. “I come here once a month. I like Honest Ed’s,” she said loudly to a group of fellow shoppers. “My mother is 86 years old and she still buys diapers here.”

“I feel like we’re on vacation,” said a small girl, who was there with her family.

Throughout the store, Toronto actress Virgilia Griffiths reprised her Dora Award-nominated performance, Honesty. It’s a one-woman show where she speaks as various real-life employees of Honest Ed’s, in a script taken verbatim from interviews. In the office, in character as an Italian manager, she said, “It’s a family. We live together, we die together.” As a Scottish sign painter, she chirped, “I know I’m a bit of a dinosaur. Ed understood that…sometimes it’s good to hold onto old things.”

That pretty much said it all.

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