By: Dr. Judith Cohen
Ethnomusicologist/ Medievalist / Singer
Honest Ed's neighbourhood resident since 1983
Honest Ed’s was my corner store for 33 years. As a displaced Montrealer, I moved to the neighbourhood in the summer of 1983, after a couple of years in the east end. Until the last few weeks, when it was reduced to a depressingly dilapidated ghost of its formerly cheerfully dilapidated self, I did most of my ordinary day-to-day shopping at Ed’s – it was never a special occasion (at least not till they started selling the signs and torn bags off at a typically exorbitant prices), just the most convenient neighbourhood everything-store. Now and then my Mississauga cousins would phone to say they were coming in for the day with the kids to stock up on cheap clothes – it was “special” for them but here really just the local store. I remember when it took over the other corner and the bridge was put up – I guess that’s when it really started to become a seriously tourist-bus-worthy landmark.
“Everything” included... VHS tapes (back in the day)! The lowest pharmacy fees. Toothpaste. Photo albums at a fraction of camera store prices. Batteries. Coffee mugs. Kettles. Shower curtains. Socks. Kitchen clocks. Boots. Tinned sardines. Italian and Portuguese cooking oil. Light bulbs. Toys. When my daughter was little, I could outfit her for a summer for $20.
Non-stick (sort of) frying pans. Bath towels, and beach towels with improbable designs. Blue jeans with only a few loose threads. Sturdy fall jackets. Dubious Birkenstock sandal imitations. Plastic lawn chairs. Bookshelves. Picture frames. Knitting wool. Clothes drying racks. Garish skirts and blouses labeled, with insouciant mendaciousness, “Fashion.” Hanukkah candles and chocolate coins, and for Passover, kosher matzah, grape juice and candied fruit.
For a month every summer, to celebrate his birthday, Ed had a giant-sized balloon sculpture of himself affixed to the roof so that one could see him waving his hand in the wind from blocks away. On his actual birthday, July 24, he'd have that block of Markham Street closed to traffic to provide free food, musicians, and clowns all day.
In the best years, not only could one drop into Mirvish Books for a cheap full New York Times weekend edition, the Children’s Bookstore was also there, with stories and cushions on the floor, and books strewn invitingly about. And for some years in the 90s, there was Ruth Meta’s welcoming Common Concerns bookstore-café-art gallery, on the corner of Markham and Bloor. On a Sunday morning, Ed would often show up there for a coffee. He’d say to me, “so, Meydeleh (affectionate Yiddish for "young girl"), have you been in my store today? Were there a lot of people?" "It was full, Ed", I'd reply, truthfully. Inevitably, a happy grin would light up his whole face - "thanks, Meydeleh, you've made my day!"