Honest Ed’s: Where Branding Turned into Part of Toronto’s Identity

Honest Ed’s is part of Toronto, a kitschy place held dear to the hearts of Torontonians and tourists alike and much of that love comes from their signage. The hokey catchphrases and jokes covering almost every square inch of Honest Ed’s exterior brings smiles to locals and, almost embarrassingly, plenty of pictures from tourists. A personal favourite of mine is “Honest Ed attracts squirrels! ‘At these prices they think he’s nuts!’”  I have a picture of my brother and I underneath it from my first visit to the city. My hair’s changed, Honest Ed’s hasn’t.

But even Honest Ed’s has to change. The store will close their doors for the last time in 2016 and owner David Mirvish, son of Ed, started selling Honest Ed’s signature look last month. This includes the hand-painted signs marking the deals Ed was just “nuts” to offer. Prices ranged from $0.50 to $100 and, in keeping with Ed’s love of its city, all proceeds went to Victim Services Toronto for people affected by sudden and violent crime.

Honest Ed’s, Distinctly Toronto

Yes, Honest Ed’s is distinct, but it’s also distinctly Torontonian. It’s been regularly featured in film and TV, its marquee turned into postcards, and even the odd bus tour takes a swing by Ed’s. The store even played into the Scott Pilgrim comics, possibly this city’s best love letter. And, if the lineups for the sign sale have anything to say on the matter, Toronto citizens agree.

The sale unexpectedly brought out hundreds of people, some of whom lined up for hours to buy the signs and get them signed by employees Douglas Kerr and Wayne Reuben. These men painted the signs and were on-hand to demonstrate their painting skills and sign people’s purchases. As custom sign painters ourselves we hold dear to our heart this aspect of Toronto’s culture.

Buying a Piece of Toronto’s Culture

But at least people will have a piece of Ed’s to carry with them, or put up in their homes and offices, which is a much better place than the recycle bin. The very act of buying these signs, of lining up in the wee hours of the morning just to get them prove that Honest Ed’s holds value in Torontonians’ eyes, even as the store itself closes down. Honest Ed’s signs are more than just branding, they’re embedded into Toronto culture. They are valued by people, turning price tags into a sentimental part of living in Canada’s largest city. These signs will be framed, cut up and used in other art projects, documented, but most of all preserved in some way or another.

That line of hundreds also proves the look of a store can go beyond increasing sales, they can become a distinct part of a city, a neighbourhood, a street. Honest Ed’s is a Toronto institution in part because of that signage, both the Las Vegas marquee and the beautiful and kitschy signs inside, are ingrained in people’s memory. Their branding turned into city identity, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Toronto Street Signs for Sale: A New Initiative Gives New Homes to Old Signs

The City of Toronto’s latest initiative is the very epitome of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure: the city continues to sell decommissioned street signs to the highest bidder.

The auctions started last month through a deal with Platinum Liquidations, who set up an online auction selling their the old signs to people who want a piece of Toronto from days gone by. The city replaces roughly 1,800 signs per year for various reasons, from legibility to damage, and usually they go straight into recycle bins. But by auctioning them off, the city’s transportation services can make some money off their trash.

Here’s How Sign Sales Work

Here’s how it works: Starting with minimum $30 bids, the city lets anyone bid on the signs in $5 increments. After 60 days, the auction closes and the sign is given to the highest bidder. 20 signs are released every week and money raised through the sales goes directly back into the city’s transportation services division. They haven’t released a master list of signs going to auction, so it’s best to check back every week to see if the street you want is there. Just a warning, the more severely damaged or illegible signs are still going into the trash heap.

And the initiative is working. The site brought had over a million views on its first day, enough to crash the page. With those numbers, competition is stiff. Some of the more popular signs, like Bloor St. W, have reached over $300 and still climbing.

Toronto Signage Sales Bring On Controversy

The move is not without controversy and, like many of Toronto’s headlines this year, Rob Ford is once again at the centre. On leave from his Mayoral duties, Mr. Ford has been signing the signs with a gold sharpie. Some see it as an autograph, prices for these signs have been much higher than those without, but others see it as defacing. The city itself thinks worries the signatures are stopping some people from bidding, so now all signatures must get approval from the city planner. After all, if you would just like the sign as is, why would you want a bright gold and very permanent scribble on it?

For my part, the signs seem like an excellent idea, both as a way to recoup costs for the city and lets people show some pride in their city. Many citizens have grown up on certain streets, maybe even for generations, so having such a sign would be a point of pride for families in the area. Of course, plenty of frat houses around town have been preemptive in street sign removal, and they aren’t the only ones.

Toronto hopes this will be an ongoing program for decommissioned street signs and hopefully these signs find good homes. A personal favourite is the old acorn style signs. The distinct shape and print reminds me of the Toronto I visited before I moved here. I’m sure for others, these signs can be a part of their family history. The auction, at its core, is about helping things change while still valuing what came before.

Signs have always been ubiquitous in Toronto, as such we are here to help provide you with custom Toronto sign painting services to help bring your dream to life.