Monday, July 22, 2013

Honest Ed’s vs. the Towers of Babylon

I’ve lived adjacent to bargain Ed’s since late 1979, so news of its market value and imminent sale arrives less a shocker than inevitable.

The years we’ve walked by and rarely cruise are plenty. The times we’ve loaded up on shampoo and smelts in a tin – rare. I admit  we’ve filled a bag or two of items and made our way to the cash register and out of frustration left the treasures stacked on bars of soap and jars of vasoline and shopped elsewhere.

Yes, there is something unique and endearing about the vast floor space that charms like the high register of a bassoon. How many times have I found myself lost in Ed’s as if it’s one of those turn of the century funhouses and flag down the near invisible red smocks in search of an exit.
I liked being a member of the black and white photo gallery of past and before stars of theater and clubs. My photo was submitted by the late Gino Empry when I played at Lights or something like that. I used to have people say to me – “Bill, how fortunate – I saw your photo in women’s shoes.”

I did the search and truth be – it was there – was it women’s shoes or garden hoses?

For twelve marvelous years I rented a top floor space for the Jazz Report Magazine then photography studio in one of the old Victorians on Markham Street next to David Mirvish books. I so loved the place – one room with a window – a hideaway - $150 a month - across the street – my God – the best Italian food – Carlos and Adelina’s. The veal in wine sauce. Hit me with smelling salts! I still preserve a chunk of veal in a back molar.
John Travolta dropped by every time he was hanging around. I felt secure knowing DeNiro and Travolta made a taxi ride away from the glitter camps to give Adelina a big kiss and down a fabulous meal.

 Adelina was the poster mom for Italy and the finer blends of Italian cuisine. She was short, stocky with a classic face - worked long hours and dreamt of vacationing in Bermuda. Even Father Marshall from the Catholic diocese Bloor and Bathurst arrived everyday for lunch - veal and glass of red. The father and I talked baseball – oh, how he must be suffering these days with his beloved Blue Jays. I dropped by his humble one room digs in residency – a cot bed – desk, jazz on the stereo (Guido Basso/Neil Swainson) and Blue Jays memorabilia. Talk about sacrifice.
Across the way, my buddy Darrell and the Green Iquana Glassworks. Darrell is the man face of Markham Street. Much of what I played with the first edition of the Saturday Nite Fish Fry came from Darrell’s never ending eclectic collection of jump blues. We all need a Darrell in our lives!

There were the painters – Oliver Schroer and his violin. Brusch and Mike Clifton and their basement CD trade up shop.
Markham Street has been a place where you pause and chat and forget Bay and King exists. In fact, I lost consciousness a few years sorting through foreign films at Suspect Video. Subtitles bothered me until I forced myself start in the A section of great directors and surface in Z a few years later - a glorious experience.

Then there’s Francis, the female face of Markham Street at Southern Accents. Francis like Darrell has been there three decades or more in her case serving up tasty Cajun food. Francis took one of the old Victorians and turned it into a hint of a Storyville bordello – beads, banners and trinkets – all favoring the Crescent City.
The Mirvishes! Christ sake they are wonderful! I say that figuring Ed will always be around.

One afternoon a good decade back I’m sitting on my stoop facing Butler’s Pantry, the lovely restaurant that replaced Carlos and Adelina when I see an elderly woman stumble and fall on sidewalk. I run over and keep her clam – hold her hand and gently talk. She eventually gains strength and asks to sit in a chair. I lift and slide her comfortably and it may have been Mike Clifton fetch a glass of water and the two of us console. For the next hour we sat and talked. “I’m Ann Mirvish and you are? I’m Bill from across the street”
“So kind of you – you rent from us. "
"Yes, I’m right up there."
" My place is near the corner, …. we must see each other again.”

A few days pass and I get a call from Ann. “Are you that lovely gentleman who helped me the other day..yes I am, .. would you meet me at David’s book store at noon.”
I did just that and there she was all smiles and radiating goodness. “Your name again, ..Bill, .. could you wait here for a moment I have to go to the basement.”

I wait and wait and wait until a clerk comes over .. “ You can go, she’s down there moving boxes – she won’t be back.”
I got it!

A couple days go by and I’m downing jambalaya at Butler’s Pantry and Ann walks in. “ Bill, have you seen Ed? Not yet.. well come and get me if you do, we never miss lunch.”
I got to thinking about that and the number of times Kris and I share lunch together – that period of time when the world stops - noise ceases and it’s just us reconnecting as life partners and savoring every minute.

Ed eventually walks in and takes the same booth Kris and I have dined at so many times before – then Ann arrives and introduces Ed. How sweet is that?
Yep, the store was the epicentre that fed the art, the zone, the musicians and artists, the strange shopkeepers, the small wine makers, weird video joints and allowed us a private block of color and beauty; an sacred catch of old Toronto history that should never be rezoned or smashed to bits for speculator condos.

Will I miss the plasticized Elvis heads – not a chance – will I miss Markham Street – hell yes.
I truly think David will think this through and sell to someone who will preserve one of the last remaining areas of Toronto that looks like the Toronto we crave and have sorely failed to save. What could you say to your grandkids? ”You know that fifty story condo tower with rooms three hundred square feet -“that’s where pigeons come to die.”


  1. Bill, it was a great honour to call you my neighbor on the street. This is a beautiful tribute to a special time.

    Best regards, Michael clifton

  2. Great post Mr. King. You've captured the flavour of the area better than anything else I've read on this affair.

    Greg Woods (long time fan)