11 remarkable photos from the final days of Honest Ed’s

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In a new book and exhibition, a Toronto photographer captures the crumbling landmark

Honest Ed’s twinkling sign no longer lights up the corner of Bloor and Bathurst, but artist Kristan Klimczak has preserved the landmark in her new exhibition and accompanying coffee table book, You Lucky People, named after cheery signs throughout the building that say, “This way, you lucky people.” When she heard the historic site had been sold to a condo developer, she set out to capture its most candid moments: shoppers trying on $5 parkas, parents introducing their kids to the labyrinthine store, and long-time employees whiling away their shifts. The resulting collection of 60 black-and-white photos chronicles the final days of a quintessentially Toronto space and the people who helped create its peculiar magic. It’s showing at Weird Things until October 12. Here’s a look at some of our favourite photos:

One day, Klimczac saw a father and son peeking into employees-only rooms. “They stopped me,” she says, “and were like, ‘You have to look into this door and you’ll see a bunch of weird mannequins.’ They made me pay attention to the place in a way I hadn’t.”

In Klimczak’s photos, bargain-basement spaces can take on an ethereal quality: “Fluorescent lights, which are grating in any other place, were almost heavenly at Honest Ed’s,” she says.

“At first, this seemed like a typical scene—an employee with a magazine behind the desk at the hair salon,” says Klimczak. “But some details are off, like the plants that flourish without sunlight.”

“The snow at night can turn the world into a kind of dreamscape,” says the photographer. “Here, the lights of the sign blur, and the cars and crowds seem to lose their command.”

The photographer watched Alfred Hitchcock movies while working on the book, and her black-and-white photos often look like they could be stills from his eerie suspense movies.

Klimczak snapped this pic while a parade passed the half-demolished façade because, she says, “it appeared to be two mirages, one acknowledging and paying respect to the other.”

“It was very important for me to document every corner of the place: I need this stairwell, and this floor, and this passageway and the pharmacy,” says Klimczak describing her evolving obsession with the space. 

A girl tries on a $4.99 parka.

Klimczak named her book You Lucky People after signs, like the one above, that guided shoppers through the maze-like building. 

“I took candid photos in order to document how the place actually moved and was,” says Klimczak.