“Honest” Ed Mirvish, the most prolific Toronto entrepreneur of our time, died this morning. He was 92 years old.
Mirvish is probably best known as the proprietor of “Honest Ed’s,” the Bloor Street retail emporium. For anybody who’s ever visited or lived in Toronto, the kitschy discount store recalls a simpler, more innocent era. Many local residents have fond memories of the outlet, whose facade is littered with blinking lights and cheesy slogans.
But while most entrepreneurs would have been satisfied with sitting back and reaping the profits of their business, Mirvish was a different sort of man. He made his mark on Toronto through a history of giving back to the community.
When the landmark Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street West was slated for demolition in 1963, Mirvish bought and restored the property. He then proceeded to purchase several nearby buildings, converting them into a series of unique restaurants (all named after himself) to draw people back to the area. Today the restaurants exist only as memories, but the revitalized theatre district remains a roaring success.
Mirvish is also credited with saving the Old Vic in London, England from demolition in the 1980s, for which he was honoured as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. (He was also a Member of the Order of Canada.) And in the 1990s the Mirvish family constructed the Princess of Wales Theatre, a block down the street from the Royal Alexandra, and took over the daily operation of the Pantages Theatre (now the Canon) as well.
To this day, Mirvish Productions continues to bring Toronto several musicals and shows each year through the three historic venues.
For a frugal man with humble beginnings, Mirvish was famously generous. He threw himself enormous birthday parties outside his store each year, providing free food and entertainment for everybody who came to celebrate. And each Christmas Honest Ed’s gave away thousands of free turkeys, brightening the holiday seasons of countless families over the years.
As a successful entrepreneur who endeared himself to the people of Toronto, Mirvish is truly the ultimate role model for every small business. Somehow, some way, he found a way to be both cheap and generous, both reserved and extravagant, both shameless and poised. He was a remarkable man of impeccable character, and his signature will forever remain on this city.
Thanks, Ed, for showing everybody how it’s done. Yours is a tough act to follow, but we’ll certainly try our best.