The 400 white dresses hanging in a stock room at Honest Ed’s aren’t what you’d call stylish.
In fact, general manager Russell Lazar describes some of them as “dowdy.” They need a little oompf. A fairy godmother’s magic wand.
But boy, in true Honest Ed tradition, when they hit the sales floor on Monday April 6, they will be bargain-basement cheap: “Special Occasion Dresses, $2.99, with a Little Imagination!” says the sign.
“This is one of our more significant sales items over the years. The price is outstanding!” exclaims Lazar. “We’re passing on enormous savings to our customers. It’s a dress for confirmation, graduation. Even a bride could wear it.”
Lazar, an Honest Ed’s employee for 57 years, knows about exuberant salesmanship. He learned it from the maestro, Ed Mirvish, who unabashedly promoted the discount emporium he opened in 1948. Mirvish died in 2007.
Now the fabled store’s months are numbered, the property at Bathurst and Bloor Sts. sold to a developer. When Honest Ed’s closes at the end of 2016, gone will be the massive 23,000-bulb electric sign, corny slogans (“Honest Ed’s full of baloney! But his prices are teeny-weenies”) and crowds lined up around the block for Christmas turkey giveaways or door-crasher specials.
Until then, however, Lazar vows to carry on with farewell promotions and lots of exclamation points. “We’re still doing what Ed loved,” says the general manager.
And so the white dresses. “When I saw them I knew they were right for us,” says Lazar. “We could sell them at a very affordable price.”
Although brand-new, the nearly ankle-length dresses were made in Canada several years ago in two styles: a floral pattern with short sleeves and a sleeveless lacy top with bolero jacket. Both are polyester. “With the look of satin,” insists Lazar.
He commandeered head cashier Nilda Cardoso to fit one to petite sales associate Angela Bento and dress it up.
“I’m not a seamstress,” says the head cashier. “When I saw the dresses I said, ‘Really, what can we do?’ Russell said tuck it in here, stick pins there. It was a good idea.”
Bento, 25, models the finished product, a size 14, lacy-bodiced dress pinned to fit her size 2 frame. The 10 ½-inch hem is a game-changer.
She and Cardoso dolled up the $2.99 dress with Honest Ed’s accessories: a red plastic bracelet for $2.99, a 99-cent necklace and a red sash from the 99-cent fashion scarves bin. “They have a chiffon touch to them,” boasts Lazar. “Imported from Italy.”
A complete outfit for less than $8, the manager points out, plus shoes. The glittery red three-inch pumps are a bit pricier at $19.99. “They’re from our French Room,” he explains.
Bento says she’d wear the dress to a summer party. Cardoso, once skeptical, could see herself in the sleeved floral print dress for a confirmation party or Portuguese church festival.
Guiding a reporter through the rambling old store, up and down stairs, under seas of “Ed’s Bargain!” signs, Lazar stops at the 99-cent jewelry display. He picks up a triple-strand white beaded necklace for $3.99. “That belongs in the French Room,” he says.
Where is the French Room?
“Oh, there’s no French Room. It was a favourite saying of Ed’s about the costlier items,” laughs Lazar.
When Mayor John Tory (open John Tory’s policard) marched in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, he sported and tweeted about a lime green jacket he bought at Honest Ed’s for $69. That must have been from the Champs-Élysées Room.
“We carry higher end lines, but everything is discounted,” explains Lazar. “Those jackets were a great value. John has a good eye.”
Outside, beneath the banner “Honest Ed’s Only the Floors are Crooked,” the reporter shows the two white dresses to female customers leaving the store. The two women, aged 26 and 31, deem the one with bolero jacket a little “old-looking.” But they say yes to the other dress.
“The white is very simple. Maybe with flowers in your hair and colourful necklace,” muses Ami Sasaki. And they agree, of course, the price is right.