Ed Mirvish, 2006
Yehuda Edwin Mirvish
July 24, 1914
|Died||July 11, 2007 (aged 92)|
|Occupation||Founder, Chairman and CEO of Honest Ed's|
(m. 1941; his death 2007)
|Children||David Mirvish, two others|
Edwin "Honest Ed" Mirvish, OC CBE OOnt (July 24, 1914 – July 11, 2007) was an American-Canadian businessman, philanthropist and theatrical impresario who lived in Toronto, Ontario. He is known for his flagship business, Honest Ed's, a landmark discount store in downtown Toronto, and as a patron of the arts, instrumental in revitalizing the theatre scene in Toronto.
Born in Colonial Beach, Virginia, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania (his father, David) and Austria (his mother, Anna). His parents gave him the Hebrew name, Yehuda, but at the urging of a cousin, they added a more American name, Edwin. Mirvish often told the tale of his bris; there was no mohel in Colonial Beach, so the family hired one in nearby Washington, D.C., to come down to perform the ceremony. The mohel chosen was Rabbi Moshe Reuben Yoelson, the father of Al Jolson. Mirvish credited this as his introduction to show business.
The family later moved to Washington, D.C., where Mirvish's father opened a grocery store. The grocery store went bankrupt in 1923, and David Mirvish moved his family to Toronto where he worked as a door-to-door salesman – peddling, among other things, Fuller Brushes and the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry – until he opened a grocery in the Toronto Jewish community, on Dundas Street. The family lived above the store, sharing their tiny apartment with a Hebrew school. Mirvish would often joke that it was his dream in those days to someday have a bathroom he did not have to share with 50 others.
Mirvish lost his father at the age of 15. He dropped out of school to manage the store, becoming the sole support of his mother, his younger brother, Robert (who became a successful novelist and short-story writer) and sister, Lorraine. The grocery business did not do well, and Mirvish closed shop to reopen as a dry-cleaner, in partnership with his childhood friend, Yale Simpson. The shop was known as Simpson's. When the well-known downtown Toronto department store Simpson's attempted to force him to change the name of his business, Mirvish pointed to Simpson and said, "Here's my Mr. Simpson. Where's yours?" The dry-cleaning business did no better than the grocery, however, and Mirvish soon abandoned it to take a regular job working as a produce manager and buyer for Toronto grocery store entrepreneur Leon Weinstein. Now financially stable, Mirvish bought a Ford Model T and began to court a radio singer from Hamilton, Ontario, Anne Macklin, whom he married in 1941. In 1945, their son, David, was born.
In 1943, during World War II, Ed and Anne Mirvish opened a dress shop known as The Sport Bar on Bloor Street near Bathurst. In 1946, the business expanded and was renamed Anne & Eddie's. In 1948, Mirvish cashed in his wife's insurance policy to open a new business, a bargain basement known as "Honest Ed's", stocked with all kinds of odd merchandise purchased at bankruptcy and fire sales, and displayed on orange crates. This unique no-credit, no-service, no-frills business model was an immediate success. Mirvish claimed to have invented the "loss-leader", below-cost discounts on selected items designed to lure buyers into the store. "Honest Ed's" gradually expanded to fill an entire city block. Billing itself as "the world's biggest discount department store", it was soon bringing in millions of dollars a year. The store expanded and, in the late 1950s, Mirvish started buying up houses on Markham Street running south from Bloor. When his application to tear down the Victorian structures in order to build a parking lot was rejected by the city Mirvish, at the urging of his wife, rented them out at low rates to local artists and the street soon became a community of artists studios, galleries, boutiques and niche shops known today as Mirvish Village.
In June 2006, Ed and Anne Mirvish marked their 65th wedding anniversary with a party at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The mayor of Toronto, the chief of police and other public figures delivered congratulatory speeches, followed by a program of vocal music by some of Toronto's opera and theater stars. In July 2006, Mirvish celebrated his 92nd birthday with a lavish party at Honest Ed's. In honor of this occasion, many items in the store were on sale for 92 cents.
On July 11, 2007, the Mirvish family released a statement to announce the death of Ed Mirvish after midnight at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto. The funeral service was held at the Beth Tzedek Synagogue in Toronto. Mirvish was buried at Pardes Shalom Cemetery in Maple, Ontario. His store was closed and its lights were dimmed, as staff bid farewell to the former owner. A similar gesture was made by theatres on Broadway, which dimmed their lights for one minute at 8 pm on July 13. Toronto Police provided ceremonial and mounted units (including the horse Honest Ed) for his funeral. Flags at Toronto's civic centres were lowered to half mast.
On August 12, 2007, the City of Toronto had granted a closure of Bloor Street between Bathurst and Markham Streets to accommodate a celebration in honour of Ed Mirvish. Ceremonies began with Mayor David Miller, who proclaimed August 12 "Ed Mirvish Day" in the City of Toronto.
In response to his death, Jones Cane Sugar Soda issued bottles of their soda with a picture of Honest Ed on them, with "Honest Ed Mirvish 1914–2007" placed where normally a photo credit lies.
Mirvish was renowned for his publicity stunts, doing everything from riding elephants, to hiring protesters to picketing his own restaurant over its dress code. Every Christmas, Mirvish gave away ten thousand pounds of free turkeys in his store to shoppers who stood in line for hours. The giveaway continued each Christmas until 2015.  A tradition since his 75th birthday has been the annual birthday bash outside the store, with free food, entertainment and children's rides. In 2003, Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman proclaimed Mirvish's birthday "Ed Mirvish Day".
At one time, a sign in the store read: "When Ed dies, he would like a catered funeral with accordion players and a buffet table, with a replica of Honest Ed on it made of potato salad."
Theatres and restaurants
In addition to Honest Ed's, Mirvish was known in Toronto for his theatres and restaurants. His first purchase was the Royal Alexandra Theatre, an Edwardian landmark building potentially slated for demolition. Mirvish purchased the building in 1963 and refurbished it, revitalizing the Toronto theatre scene.
To liven up the neighborhood and provide patrons with a place to go before and after performances, Mirvish bought and renovated a nearby warehouse building, which he turned into a restaurant. To cut costs, "Ed's Warehouse" at King Street West and Duncan Street served a set meal: prime rib, mashed potatoes and peas. Along the same street, Mirvish later opened Ed's Seafood, Ed's Folly, Ed's Chinese, Ed's Italian Restaurant and Old Ed's, which attracted local residents to the previously neglected King Street area and served 6,000 meals a night. As the neighbourhood became revitalized, many other restaurants opened nearby, often serving a wider range of foods than Ed's restaurants and achieving greater popularity; consequently, one by one, Ed's restaurants closed down. The last was Ed's Warehouse, which shut its doors in 2000.
In 1993 the Mirvishes built the Princess of Wales Theatre, the largest new theatre – and first privately financed theatre – in North America in the span of thirty years. In 2001, Mirvish Enterprises signed a management contract to run the Pantages Theatre, renamed the Canon Theatre, for Clear Channel Entertainment (now Live Nation), which had bought up the assets of the bankrupt theatre company, Livent. The first show under the Mirvish banner was a touring production of Saturday Night Fever.
He and his son David operated Mirvish Productions, which staged major touring theatre productions from Broadway and London and which produced and/or co-produced the Canadian stagings of such recent hits as The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, The Producers and Hairspray. In 1982 Ed and David Mirvish bought London's Old Vic for GB£550,000 (C$1.23 million) and spent four million dollars renovating it. Under their management, The Old Vic was celebrated for winning more awards for its productions than any other single theatre in Britain; It never made money, however, and they sold it to its present owners, a theatre trust, in 1998. Ed Mirvish was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for saving the Old Vic.
On December 6, 2011 the Canon Theatre was renamed Ed Mirvish Theatre in his honour.
Honours and awards
- 1978, Made a Member of the Order of Canada
- 1984, Awarded Retail Council of Canada's Distinguished Canadian Retailer of the Year Award
- 1984, Named a Freeman of the City of London in recognition of his contributions to British theatre (he subsequently drove a herd of sheep across London Bridge, a right of a Freeman of the city)
- 1987, Promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada
- 1989, Appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire
- 1999, Awarded Retail Council of Canada's Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2008, One block of Duncan Street in Toronto, near the Royal Alexandra Theatre and the Princess of Wales Theatre in the Entertainment District, is renamed Ed Mirvish Way
- 2008, The parkette at Bathurst Subway Station, near Honest Ed's, is renamed Ed & Anne Mirvish Parkette
- 2011, The former Canon Theatre on Yonge Street in Toronto was renamed as the Ed Mirvish Theatre.
- How to Build an Empire on an Orange Crate, or 121 Lessons I Never Learned at School, the autobiography of Edwin Mirvish, published by Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1993
- There's no business like show business : but I wouldn't ditch my day job by Ed Mirvish, published by Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1997.
- Retail Council of Canada's Awards of Distinction
- "Rising son". Toronto Life: 50–58. May 1993 – via CBCA Complete.
- "Honest Ed Mirvish dies at 92". National Post. 2007-07-11. Archived from the original on 2008-08-29. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Richard Ouzounian (2007-07-11). "Ed Mirvish, 92: 'Honest Ed'". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- CanWest News Service (11 July 2007). "Entrepreneur and theatre impresario Mirvish dead at 92". Canada.com. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Richard Ouzounian (12 July 2007). "Ed Mirvish, 92: Toronto's Greatest Bargain". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- "Anne Mirvish, wife of 'Honest' Ed Mirvish, dies at 94". CBS News. Canadian Press. September 20, 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-09-21.
- "'Honest Ed' Mirvish celebrating 92nd birthday". CTV. 2006-07-23. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- "Honest Ed Mirvish Celebrates His 92nd Birthday". CityNews. 2006-07-23. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- Staff writers (July 13, 2007). "Emotional Crowds Say Goodbye To Ed Mirvish With Tears And Cheers". CityNews. Archived from the original on August 20, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Goffin, Peter. "Last call for Honest Ed's annual turkey giveaway". Toronto Star. Toronto. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
- Robertson, Ian (2006-12-04). "Ed's turkeys theirs for the gobbling". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 2007-01-28. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- City of Toronto: City Proclamations
- Obituary: Ed Mirvish
- "Honest Ed Gets Royal Alex - "Not Looking for a Profit"". Toronto Daily Star. February 16, 1963. p. 1.
- John Goddard (12 July 2007). "Honest tears shed for well-loved retailer". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- "Honest Ed buys Old Vic theatre". The Globe and Mail. 1982-06-24.
- City of Toronto, By-law No.956-2008, To rename part of the public highway Duncan Street between King Street West and Pearl Street as "Ed Mirvish Way".
- Staff report for action on the renaming of Bathurst Subway Parkette