Ed Mirvish dies at 92
TORONTO (CP) – A legendary figure in the Toronto retail and theatre business has died at the age of 92.
Ed Mirvish who died early Wednesday morning in a Toronto hospital was best known for his Honest Ed’s discount store and his efforts to revitalize Toronto’s theatre district.
The sprawling store in downtown Toronto sold just about everything – groceries, housewares, clothes and kitsch.
He entered the theatrical business when he purchased and saved from demolition the stately Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 1963. He also bought and restored the Old Vic in London, England, and with his son, David Mirvish, built the award-winning Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto in 1993.
His theatres introduced Toronto audiences to blockbusters like “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia” and “Miss Saigon.”
Born July 24, 1914, in Colonial Beach, Va., Mirvish came to Toronto in 1923 where he and his family lived above their downtown Dundas Street grocery. He was 15 when his father died and he dropped out of school to support his family.
Over the years, Mirvish picked up a handful of honorary degrees and awards, including the Order of Canada and the Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
“It’s wonderful to go from Dundas Street to Buckingham Palace, but what is really wonderful is to be lucky enough to live in a country where this is possible,” Mirvish said in 1989 before he was presented the CBE by the Queen.
Mirvish married Anne Maklin of Hamilton in 1940.
Mirvish opened his discount emporium in 1948 at Bathurst and Bloor – the heart Toronto’s immigrant district. His first newspaper ad read: “Our building is a dump! Our service is rotten! . . . But. . ..
! Our prices are the lowest in town!”
He once said he named his store Honest Ed’s because “it was so ridiculous. As soon as you claim to be honest, everybody gets suspicious.”
By the 1950s, the store, which sported 23,000 light bulbs and took up an entire city block, had become so successful that neighbours were complaining about noise and traffic.
In 1962, Mirvish, who admitted he knew nothing about theatre, bought the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street and spent $500,000 restoring the 1907 theatre to its former glory.
Soon he added restaurateur to his expanding list of accomplishments with the opening of Ed’s Warehouse on King, a 180-seat restaurant that only served roast beef. Eventually, his restaurant empire included 10 dining rooms.
In 2003, one of Mirvish’s restaurants, Old Ed’s, was transformed into the Toronto Antique Market.
Next Mirvish, and his only son David, who together formed Mirvish Productions, took the family Midas Touch to London, buying the Old Vic theatre for $1.23 million in 1982.
While the Times newspaper in London hailed Mirvish as a Toronto Medici, he was a puzzle to many Brits.
“We do not have characters like that in Britain,” wrote Guardian drama critic Michael Billington. “He is a salesman – a fascinating, buccaneering tycoon.”
Mirvish, who was distinguished by his flamboyance and shrewd business acumen, was also well-known for his generosity.
During the SARS outbreaks in Toronto in the spring, Mirvish and his son were instrumental in assembling a deep-discount package meant to revive the city’s lagging tourism and economy. All 120,000 of the $125-or $85-packages sold out in 10 days.
At his annual birthday bash, to which everyone was welcome, there were free hotdogs, rides and cake. And each Christmas, people would line up overnight outside Honest Ed’s for a free turkey and fruit cake. Sometimes they waited 24 hours.
Russell Lazar, Mirvish’s assistant and manager of Honest Ed’s for 45 years, said despite his wealth and fame, Mirvish always considered himself a shopkeeper.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Ed Mirvish dies at 92