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A large crowd of people waited in line, inside and out, to have a chance to purchase some of the many hand-made signs at Honest Ed's in Toronto on March 10, 2014. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
A large crowd of people waited in line, inside and out, to have a chance to purchase some of the many hand-made signs at Honest Ed's in Toronto on March 10, 2014. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Thousands line up to buy hand-painted Honest Ed’s signs Add to ...

In the 66 years the legendary Honest Ed’s department store has been open, there have been lineups for free turkeys, five-cent doorcrasher dealers, and children’s rides at founder Ed Mirvish’s lavish birthday parties.

But on Monday, thousands lined up for hours to take home a colourful part of the store itself.

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With the building sold to a Vancouver-area developer and the shop’s lease ending in 2016, Honest Ed’s began selling off its familiar hand-painted yellow, blue and red signs. And in typical fashion for the discount retailer, the signs went “cheap! cheap! cheap!” Most were priced at a few dollars apiece, with all proceeds going to Victim Services Toronto.

“It’s a bigger lineup than when we give away the free turkeys,” said the store’s manager, Russell Lazar. He had planned to sell 1,000 signs, but after overwhelming interest, put 2,000 up for sale.

Still, he was surprised to see people show up at 4:30 a.m., with the lineup eventually snaking across the Bloor Street storefront and along Markham Street.

Steve Fine arrived at 6:30 a.m., and said the wait was worth it. He went home with a sign reading: “Honest Ed is a blabbermouth. He can’t keep his low prices a secret!”

He likes that the signs are hand-painted, but more importantly, the nostalgia they evoke. “My grandmother would take me down here when I was a kid. Now I bring my own kids down.”

And Ian Price, who was first in line, remembered his parents bringing him to the store’s restaurant when he was a kid. “It was a wonderland of marvels,” he said. And the prime rib? “There was nothing like it.”

As people sifted through signs advertising everything from “ladies and misses fashion sox,” to dish detergent, one of the “celebrity show-card sign writers,” Wayne Reuben, stood by autographing them. He called it “overwhelming, the magnitude of people here. It’s really something.”

Mr. Lazar, who started working in the stock room at Honest Ed’s 56 years ago, said it is likely that more paraphernalia and souvenirs from the store will be sold as the closing date nears – including more signs, 10-foot glittering dragons, huge vases, and “things that are part of the absurd, unusual eclectic part of Ed Mirvish.”

And though Monday’s sale drew thousands, Mr. Lazar said it still paled in comparison to the store’s biggest event, back in 1984, when TV star Mr. T arrived to celebrate the shop’s expansion.

“We drew more than 20,000 people, and we were so afraid someone would get injured – they were climbing the posts – that police had to come and ask him to leave after only 10 minutes,” he said.

“We had to put him in the back of a car and cover him over the head to get him out.”

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