Centre for Social Innovation initiative aims to build off Honest Ed’s “Toronto for Everyone” approach.

When it comes to must-see landmarks and city staples, Toronto is practically a goldmine for both tourists and locals. Nevertheless, there’s no place in the city quite like the now closed Honest Ed’s discount store. For the last 68 years the shop was known as this colossal building, impossible to miss with its once dazzling display of lights and boastful signage promising the lowest prices in town. It was a place where couples went on first dates, kids went to explore and families frequented to get the best deals on just about everything.

However, after decades of operation, according to a Global News report, the Mirvish family felt that the building was no longer elevating the community. In 2013, the property was sold to Vancouver-based developer Westbank to make room for a new development project in the city’s Bathurst and Bloor area.

The loss of the adored warehouse, which to many was a symbol of affordability and inclusivity, is a cold reminder that the city is rapidly becoming unaffordable and exclusionary. The drive into the downtown core is laden with construction sites offering new housing projects, but middle to low-income families and new homebuyers often have to look to the suburbs in order to afford a household.

Meanwhile, the retail world has also experienced a massive shift with the rise of the Internet and expansion of big-box discount stores like Dollarama and Wal-Mart, which prove detrimental to smaller independent retailers and shops like Honest Ed’s.

In the face of the ill-fated forfeit, members of non-profit organization Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) launched a new initiative called Toronto For Everyone. The collective aims to execute workshops and other initiatives that will help promote a more welcoming and supportive community.

“I think it’s a real challenge for the city and I think right now we have to ask ourselves: Is Toronto for everyone?” says CSI Executive Director Adil Dhalla. “It’s not heading that way unless we bring a lot of attention to policy, business and organizations that are really creating an inclusive city.”

“I think right now we have to ask ourselves: Is Toronto for everyone?”

The Toronto For Everyone launch was announced in conjunction with a huge party at Honest Ed’s as a final farewell to the building and, in a way, a passing of the torch for keeping Toronto inclusive. The collective and its partners organized a four-day festival comprised of several art exhibitions, special performances and a huge bargain bash that filled up all three floors of the mammoth-sized building.

In the coming months, the collective is working to extend the Honest Ed’s legacy of being a place for everyone by facilitating a series of interactive workshops that provide education around supporting the community.

“One of the ways we can create a city for everyone is educating people on different cultures, different identities and removing our reflective blinders. That’s a big focus of our efforts,” explains Dhalla.

“We’re not the experts in this work, [but] we believe the expertise is out there. What CSI has done is created a platform that invites people to co-create with us and we will share our privilege and our resources to enable their work.”

Though many residents are wary about the new development potentially extinguishing the eccentric charisma of the neighbourhood, Westbank has stated that it plans to maintain the “character and interface” of the beloved borough as much as possible. The developer’s main approach is to help grow the community and the people living there, rather than having them run for the hills with the introduction of large complexes and expensive condos. Westbank released several rough outlines for what is expected to replace the department store. The most recent proposal includes rental apartments, a public park and the preservation of many of the heritage buildings in the vicinity. The plan has also incorporated the opportunity for micro-retail where artists and independent professionals will have the space to grow their businesses.

During the final farewell Bargain Bash, people from every background and neighbourhood came through Honest Ed’s doors for the last time. Memories were revived and new ones formed under the gleam of the famed Honest Ed’s sign. And while the new development plan allows for a tremendous economic benefit for the city, nothing could possibly erase what the building was able to do for immigrants, families, artists and entrepreneurs in its nearly seven decades of business. Here’s just a taste of the Honest Ed’s impact.

“One of the ways we can create a city for everyone is educating people on different cultures, different identities and removing our reflective blinders.”

Adil Dhalla – Executive Director, Centre for Social Innovation

“My family was new to this country and when we were younger we’d go to Honest Ed’s obviously because we could afford things there and it was an experience. I just remember being young and running through the store and getting lost. It was so akin to where we came from in terms of going to the Bazaar. There was nothing else quite like it in the city. For me I had these really fond memories of running around the store and feeling like I belonged there.”

Dawn Laing – Artist Director, Toronto For Everyone

“This is going to sound super cheesy, but my favourite memories at Honest Ed’s have actually been since it’s closed and being with the team I’m on now. Coming into an abandoned department store and curating it and spending time in a building just you and one other person, or you and a team, it’s a feeling I’ll never forget. People always say, ‘you can forget what someone says, but you never forget how they make you feel.’ This building has all those feelings. It’s been really incredible.”

Tone Burke – Artist/Designer, “ART1ST” installment at Honest Ed’s

“I remember as a kid driving up Bathurst in the back of my mom’s car and my dad’s car and seeing these lights. I didn’t even know what that store was until I reached a certain age, I just knew it by the signs and stuff. When I got a little bit older . . . I went there one time and they had these snapbacks for sale for like a dollar. This was at the time when snapbacks were really poppin’ and I remember just going there, buying a bunch and just re-selling them at school making a little bit of change. I’d go there all the time just to see what’s going on. It’s definitely a really dope and unique spot.”

Gallery Photos © Sadé Powell & Urbanology Magazine // Main Photo MTLskyline via Wikimedia Creative Commons