FEBRUARY 26, 1981
When is the Right Time to Retire?
AN ADDRESS BY Ed Mirvish,
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald Stackhouse
Ladies and gentlemen: Probably everyone here has read "Ed-lines," such as:
HONEST ED'S A FAT SLOB, BUT HIS PRICES KEEP A SLIM FIGURE
HONEST ED'S GOING BALD, BUT HIS PRICES ARE HAIR-RAISING.
That kind of imaginative advertising and many other innovative features in the 1950s made what could have been just another bargain discount store into one of the most distinctive and interesting retail centres of Canada.
But even more distinctive and interesting has been the man who created this unique Toronto enterprise, and still remains its "shaping spirit of imagination."
There are so many sides to this man- we could think there must be at least seven Ed Mirvishes. The son of a merchant, he has been a merchant all his life--and what a merchant! But he is also a restauranteur, able to serve meals to 1,500 people at a time. He is also a theatre owner, providing Toronto with one of the most impressive theatres in North America. He is a patron of the arts who has created a block-long centre of studios, galleries and boutiques. He is even a ballroom dancer, agile and graceful enough to win prizes in competition. He is very much a husband and father, his family sharing his creativity with him. To be all that would be more than enough for most of us. But Mr. Mirvish has been more. He is a citizen in the original sense of the term--a man of the city concerned for the quality of his city's life and ready to lift it. This public spirit has been recognized in ways few Canadians can ever hope to enjoy. He has received the Order of Canada, the Award of Merit from the City of Toronto, and the Telegram Theatre Award. He has been honoured with doctorates by Trent University and the University of Waterloo.
The Empire Club of Canada is privileged today to hear Mr. Edwin Mirvish.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Empire Club, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: I would like to thank you for inviting me here this afternoon and for giving me the privilege of speaking to you. It is always gratifying to be able to place a point of view before a distinguished audience.
My talk is titled "When is the right time to retire?" As a senior citizen I am expressing my own personal views. If my talk sounds like one big commercial, it may well be so, but the intention is to point out that at an age when society expects me to slip into retirement, I choose instead to go into new endeavours.
I am sure that most people have thought about this subject at some period in their life. Thoughts of retirement first crossed my mind when I was thirteen years of age. I was pushing my bike up Bathurst Street hill, delivering groceries on a sweltering, hot summer day. Having had to leave school at an early age, resulting in little formal education, I worked to survive. I can emphasize that I did not work for the joy of it. At that time I had never even heard of the merits of the socalled "work ethic."
Wanting to eat regularly, I realized at an early age that if I were going to wait for someone to hand me something, I would be in for a big disappointment. Nevertheless, already on those hot summer days I thought about retiring and sitting on the banks of the Humber river, dangling my feet in the water. Needless to say, nothing came of this dream. I kept pushing my bike up the hill! And even now I have yet to dangle my feet in the Humber river.
My second thought of retirement came shortly after I became a married man. Not having earned very much money working on the one and only job I had ever had, I came up with the idea of having a store that would be open only one day a week.
I imagined that if I could earn a hundred dollars on that one day I would have found a very pleasant life style. Not complete retirement, but a step in the right direction. I opened a store called Honest Ed's which was open one day a week. The store front was garishly painted and a large message outside proclaimed "You name the price--no reasonable offer refused!" I bought bankrupt stocks and distress merchandise. The idea worked.
This store gave me my first taste of power. When the customer asked, "Who decides what a reasonable offer is?" I replied, "The Honest One, me!" Surprisingly, many of the offers were more than I had expected.
What I did not understand was human nature and my own personal needs. It did not take many weeks before my greed and restlessness pushed me into opening the store three days a week. With this three-day week came change, excitement, enjoyment and profit, which encouraged me to open six days a week.
In the process I learned that change must be one of the very strong needs of human beings. I observed that people did not go on holidays because they needed a rest from their everyday work. People went on holidays to have a change. Often they would expend more energy on their vacation than they would on their job. Meanwhile, I was enjoying my six-day work week, which resulted in the inevitable--I blew my semiretirement.
As many Torontonians know, Honest Ed's grew and as we grew, various employee benefits were instituted. In our very early years a pension plan was set up by us, which provided for compulsory retirement at age sixty-five. This was just fine, until one day I realized that I was sixty-three. That was the day I struck out the word "compulsory."
Meanwhile over the years the government had slowly been taking over our lives. More and more, big government was taking care of "the work force." Many of the early benefits we had introduced were washed away. If our big-hearted governments continue in the present direction, it will only be a matter of time before we will all be looked after from "the cradle to the grave." We will be born into retirement.
Now going on sixty-seven, I can only say that I have no thoughts of retirement. I look forward to arriving at Honest Ed's at 8 a.m. every day, where I am actively involved in merchandising.
Then I walk around our village on Markham Street where the individualism of the art galleries, museums, book stores, studios, boutiques and the people who frequent them create a very special atmosphere which I enjoy.
At noon you will find me at our restaurants on King Street West where there is never a day that I do not meet interesting people from all over the world. In the afternoon I am at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Again, another environment. A world of excitement and challenge. My day is constantly changing. To me these occupations are all blessings for which I feel thankful and extremely privileged.
Now that I have covered some of my past I would like to put aside these thoughts. Looking back is a sure sign of old age. Looking forward, I would like to
outline some of my plans for the future. I am humble enough to realize that the future is not always in our hands, but I do have enough ideas and plans to keep me busy and City Hall aggravated for a long time into the future.
Our first and immediate project is the enlargement of Honest Ed's. This I hope will happen if and when our building plans, which have been submitted, work their way through the maze of City Hall. The present store will extend eastward along Bloor Street to Bathurst Street.
As we have never branched out and developed into a chain organization, or gone public, I can visualize the enlarged Honest Ed's as a landmark to the small storekeeper surviving in a country that provides the freedom and opportunity to grow and develop under the "free enterprise system." I am thankful that "Lady Luck" decided long ago that Canada would be my home. I eagerly look forward to the completion of the new enlarged and spectacular Honest Ed's.
One of the buildings required for the expansion of Honest Ed's was the Royal Bank, our next door neighbour. This bank had occupied these premises for over fifty years. Upon acquiring the bank building, I subsequently spoke to Liberace, the great showman, and said to him, "Lee, you know the bank next door to me that I take my money to? I bought it." This is a line that Liberace has often used in his show. He got a kick out of that.
My next thoughts and plans centre around King Street West across from the cN Tower and adjacent to our theatre and restaurants.
I would like to offer and present on King Street West a complete evening's entertainment from eight p.m. to one a.m. at one fixed price. For this price I would provide: a superb full course dinner; dancing to three different bands; an enormous full-scale spectacular revue at 9:30 p.m. presented on a stage with a hundredfoot proscenium opening, a stage almost twice the size of the largest stage anywhere in Canada. The stage and ceilings would be equipped with elevators to be used for special effects. I would provide artificial ice for ice shows, waterfalls and fountains for aquatic effects. This super spectacle of visual splendour, supported by gorgeous costumes, sets and lighting, would be complemented by a cast of forty long-stemmed beauties. Finally, at eleven p.m., an international star is presented. A great, complete entertainment package.
In addition to the regular Monday through Saturday evening entertainment, conventions could be accommodated during the day. Television specials and series could be recorded on Sundays. This would be a multipurpose enterprise which I would like to call "Ed's Diamond Horseshoe." The great attraction for locals and tourists alike is the fact that the customers will know exactly what their complete evening's entertainment will cost. For the price of admission they can be confident that they will receive quality and value. To support this type of attraction it is necessary to locate in centres that cater to many tourists. Paris, London or Tokyo are typical examples.
We already own the land across from the cN Tower which at present is being used as a parking lot for our restaurants and theatre. Now that a large world Convention Centre will be built directly across from us, we might well be ready for Ed's Diamond Horseshoe.
Another project that I am seriously considering would also be in the vicinity of our theatre and restaurants.
Toronto is ready for another theatre. I would like to erect a 2,500 seat, intimate, beautiful theatre patterned after the La Scala Opera House or one of the other beautiful old world theatres. This theatre should be able to accommodate the largest musical productions staged anywhere in the world.
Most musical productions can be presented on the Royal Alexandra stage. Our present theatre is as large or larger than most Broadway and West End London theatres. The problem is that with the fast-rising cost of large musical hits, the 1,500 seats of the Royal Alexandra theatre do not have the dollar potential to cover the cost of today's large scale productions.
A new 2,500 seat theatre would complement the Royal Alex and with our same management team could make this larger theatre economically viable. It could be a welcome addition to the exciting King Street scene. Such a theatre would also add importance to our city as a world theatre entertainment centre.
Of course a multi-level parking lot on this same land would always make more money, provide less aggravation, get less criticism and require a minimum of staff. On the other hand it does not require much talent to run a parking lot and it does nothing for my ego.
I am constantly accused of having too much ego. I guess we never see ourselves as we really are. I always thought I was so modest. The point I am really trying to make is that "parking" is a great no-risk business for a person who wants to retire.
If I should opt for parking I would like to create something unique. For example, facing the Convention Centre how about the possibility of the longest bar in the world, 160 feet long running parallel to King Street? In front of the bar, rising ten stories high, could be an opulent French or Roman facade. Behind this facade would be concealed nine floors of parking. Entrance to the bar would be through the gorgeous doors of the facade on King Street.
The entire parking accommodation would be completely hidden by this facade. This structure should impress and attract some of the thousands of visitors attending the New Massey Hall, the cN Tower, the Convention Centre and hotel located directly across from it. Exit and entrance to the multi-level parking area would be from Pearl Street at the rear of our lot.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk to you for the next four or five hours, sharing with you other ideas I have in mind. But don't panic--I'll spare you.
One more new item that I can't resist telling you about is a new musical bound for Broadway which I will be producing in September. It will be based on the celebrated comedy Harvey.
The book, music and lyrics are by Leslie Bricusse, lyricist of Stop The World and many other hits. Dick Martin, of the famous comedy team of Rowan and Martin, widely known for their successful comedy show Laugh In, will be the star. This full-scale musical will be called Say Hello to Harvey. I promise that you will be hearing a great deal about Harvey in August of this year. A new play is the birth of a new idea and there is nothing to compare with the excitement of birth.
Before I conclude, I would like to speak to you about a very important institution in our city. I have never been personally involved in this particular institution but it is a traditional landmark. It has always been run by boards and committees. I personally have absolutely no talent for working with committees. What I am referring to is our legendary Canadian National Exhibition.
Please let me outline what I would like to see developed on the Exhibition grounds.
My plan would begin west of the CNE. The city should re-establish the Sunnyside Amusement Park, the Boardwalk, the Bathing Pavillion and swimming pool. With the cleaning up of the polluted waters of Lake Ontario, Sunnyside Beach and Amusement Park could once again become a summer playground for families and people of all ages.
All of the fast-food stands, amusements and Midway games located at the CNE should be removed and transferred to the Sunnyside Amusement Park.
Many of these attractions which are now used for as little as three weeks per year could be enjoyed for a five- or six-month period. Because of this longer time span, service, pleasure and attractiveness would be provided on a much more efficient and economical basis.
Now to get back to the CNE proper.
The concept of the CNE should be a twelve-month year-round exhibition complex, not a mere threeweek-a-year effort.
I emphasize the word "exhibition." You cannot be all things to all people--we live in the age of specialization! but specializing in exhibits, we could lead the world. We should move every ugly parking lot within the CNE grounds to outside its boundaries. Thousands of parked cars only detract from the beauty of this park. The large income derived from parking would still be available even if parking were to be moved. Private cars should not be allowed to enter the Exhibition grounds, except for transient business deliveries.
This established, we now have two assets--parkland and buildings for exhibits! To enhance the parkland I would change most of the arterial roads into canals which would connect with Lake Ontario and Ontario Place. The islands of landscaped parks and walkways plus the Exhibition buildings would be connected by attractive bridges. In warm weather small boats or gondolas could traverse the waterways. In winter these same waterways could be used for ice skating.
With fountains, creative lighting and, most important, excellent housekeeping equal to that of Disneyland, for example, we could have a year-round park and exhibition showcase unique in the world.
Toronto deserves this!
In this Exhibition Park we should preserve and beautify the present buildings and erect in the future new exhibition palaces to attract exhibitors who would pay for them.
Ideally, admission to the public should be free! If the crowds come, the exhibitors will come. Where you have people, there is always a way to get revenue. Every country in the world should rent space in these buildings. They could exhibit their products, their art, their culture, and promote travel and interest in their particular country.
Every major corporation in the world should be proud to show their products and to introduce the new products which are continuously developed in our rapidly changing world. Exhibits should be shown on a year-round basis.
What a magnificent visual display! Truly a showcase for the world. We would provide excellent accommodation to "suppliers of the world for shoppers of the world."
With all due respect to all forms of mass entertainment and show business, the most popular entertainment you can offer is the colourful and imaginative presentation of new products because they relate to all of us. The CNE would be an up-to-the-minute presentation of what is available everywhere in the world. These beautiful exhibition palaces could become known as "the windows of the world."
Attractive presentation of products is a very romantic business. If we ever took away from people, for one month, the privilege of going shopping, many of them would go out of their minds!
Our Canadian National Exhibition has a long and illustrious history of over one hundred years. It is the largest annual fair in the world. The many individuals who have contributed to make it so deserve our thanks and appreciation, but the world changes and our needs change.
The transformation of the CNE could never happen if it were supported by people with retirement in mind. Men and women with energy, vision, talent, creativity and enjoyment of hard work will be the ones, regardless of their age, who will make our great city of Toronto even greater. I hope that our city fathers will feel that the plan I have outlined does have some merit and that they will pursue it.
Now I wish all of you good health and may you enjoy your personal interests, ideas and dreams. Despite what we read in the newspapers, there is still a beautiful world out there.
In answer to the question, "When is the right time to retire?"--the answer is probably different for every one of us. But one thing is certain. It is important for all of us to have a reason to get up in the morning. Finally--this particular moment is the time for me to retire from speaking.
The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Mirvish by John D. Herrick, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.