How this 'hippie holdout' hopes to bridge past and future in Mirvish Village

Unlike other independent businesses bulldozed to make way for a revitalized Mirvish Village, Alternative Thinking on Bathurst Street hopes to remain open throughout the redevelopment.

Redevelopment of Honest Ed's site will incorporate feel of old Mirvish Village

Alternative Thinking at 758 Bathurst St. will soon be the lone building left on the site of the Mirvish Village redevelopment. The buildings to the north and south will soon be torn down. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

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.

Revaz Mekvabishvili owns Alternative Thinking. The store hopes to stay open during the major transformation of the area, despite all the noise and chaos that will entail. (Martin Trainor/CBC)
Owner Revaz Mekvabishvili has been in business for seven years.

"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, runes 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.

From organic herbs to healing crystals and organic cotton clothing, Alternative Thinking caters to customers who are into spiritualism and inner transformation. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"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. 

Warren Falkenstein, a spiritualist and motivational speaker, is a regular customer of Alternative Thinking. He says the store has a powerful energy that blocks the chaos and upheaval happening just outside its walls. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"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.

Concept images of Mirvish Village development show a mix of buildings, including Alternative Thinking's current home. (Westbank)

"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."


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.