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

By June 7, 2014No Comments

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.

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