How this 'hippie holdout' hopes to bridge past and future in Mirvish Village
Redevelopment of Honest Ed's site will incorporate feel of old Mirvish Village
With the redevelopment of Mirvish Village well underway and an entire block at Bloor and Bathurst streets where Honest Ed's once stood reduced to rubble, a row of three-storey buildings stands out like a sore thumb.
Smack in the middle of this huge redevelopment, with jackhammers and backhoes creating dust and chaos all around it, the business inside 758 Bathurst St. remains open. It's a store called Alternative Thinking.
"It's a reflection of alternative choices for sure," he said, adding some have called the store the "hippie holdout," perhaps because of the goods he carries.
Shelves line both walls of the store, filled with bags of herbs, chaga mushroom, dandelion leaf, cat's clawbark — healing and power crystals in glass showcases and bookshelves are crammed with books on spirituality, ruins and tarot cards.
In the back of the store hangs clothing made from sustainable organic cotton.
Then there's the atmosphere.
As soon as you walk into the door of Alternative Thinking you smell incense and homemade tomato red pepper soup and completely forget the demolition that surrounds it as you are enveloped by a sense of peace and tranquillity inside.
"People describe it as a portal to transcendence where you can just be yourself ... the music and the atmosphere is definitely an alternative," says Mekvabishvili. "For it to be standing here is pretty remarkable."
The building's owner, David Spiro, bought it back in 2005 and despite being approached by developers, he has decided not to sell.
"He has a long personal history in the neighbourhood even before Honest Ed's was here," says Mekvabishvili, adding owners of the building next door had also been holding out, but recently sold to developer Westbank.
"They left us here and they're just going to build around us," says Mekvabishvili, who adds he counts on community support for the store during the area's transformation.
Many regular customers see the store as an anchor to the past as the neighbourhood undergoes a major transition.
"As soon as I walk in there's that vibe. There's that spiritual vibe — it's like in the walls," says Warren Falkenstein, who has been coming to Alternative Thinking for years.
"Everybody knows this store, you know, whether you're doing yoga or you are doing meditation or you're a healer, whatever. This place has what you need."
He says some of those who live in the area initially had concerns that the developers would not preserve the spirit of the neighbourhood.
"I was sad to see Honest Ed's go, but something big is coming and when one door closes — two others open," says Falkenstein.
And as buildings literally crumble around them, Mekvabishvili has a sense of optimism about the rebirth of Mirvish Village.
"I'm looking forward to what's going to happen — I'm thinking more traffic, more business and a more enjoyable atmosphere for the community," he says.
Westbank developers have tapped Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez to design the Mirvish redevelopment with a mix of street-level retail and 800 residential rental units, and Mekvabishvili says the concept drawings he's seen include towers with laneways, green space, boutique-style shops and pedestrian walkways.
And he says he sees Alternative Thinking incorporated into the plans. Mekvabishvili says developers have not been resentful of them for being the lone holdout.
"Not at all. They've been really supportive and friendly we have great communication, so we are working together," he says. "We are lucky and grateful. We'll be here as long as we can."