Hip­pie hold­out part of Mirvish vi­sion

Mirvish Vil­lage de­mo­li­tion be­gins around New Age book­store

Annex Post - - NEWS -

On the west side of Bathurst Street heav­ily cov­ered by scaf­fold­ing from the on­go­ing de­mo­li­tion of the old Mirvish Vil­lage, only one store re­mains in op­er­a­tion –– Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing, a large book­store and café at 758 Bathurst St. that spe­cial­izes in heal­ing crys­tals, herbal reme­dies and niche books.

Af­ter Vancouver de­vel­oper West­bank Corp. pur­chased Hon­est Ed’s and prop­er­ties in the Mirvish Vil­lage area in 2013, Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing saw the neigh­bour­hood change: The B. streets con­dos across the street were built, and peo­ple moved in. Stores around them shut­tered one by one, hav­ing been sold to West­bank. Hon­est Ed’s closed and was then dis­man­tled. In place of the bustling artis­tic hub of Mirvish Vil­lage be­hind them is now a gated con­struc­tion zone. How­ever, David Spiro, the owner of the build­ing that houses Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing, never sold.

“Through­out the years, we’ve seen ren­o­va­tions across the street. There was a big condo com­plex that was across the street that hap­pened,” said Re­vaz Mekv­abishvili, the owner of Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing.

With the new Mirvish Vil­lage de­vel­op­ment on the hori­zon, the neigh­bour­hood is po­si­tioned for even more dra­matic change.

“I’m not re­ally sure what’s go­ing to hap­pen or where we’re go­ing to go,” he said. “We feel pretty op­ti­mistic. Feels OK at the mo­ment.”

Whereas most in­de­pen­dent busi­ness own­ers would be con­cerned about con­struc­tion and the chang­ing char­ac­ter of the neigh­bour­hood when a new de­vel­oper moves in, Mekv­abishvili is con­fi­dent that one of West­bank’s top pri­or­i­ties is pre­serv­ing the area’s char­ac­ter.

“The pro­ject has so many lay­ers of his­tory to it,” said Jonah Le­tovsky, West­bank Corp.’s de­vel­op­ment man­ager for Mirvish Vil­lage. “The way we’re see­ing it is adding more lay­ers on, in­stead of wip­ing out what was there and start­ing with some­thing com­pletely new.”

What that means is com­pletely pur­pose-built rental units, half of which will be fam­ily-sized, and 10 per cent of which will be “deeply af­ford­able” and im­ple­mented in part­ner­ship with the City of Toronto. It also in­volves a mi­crore­tail pro­gram for in­de­pen­dent en­trepreneurs and a 35,000-square­foot pub­lic mar­ket not un­like the old Hon­est Ed’s.

“We be­lieve the pro­ject is highly in­no­va­tive and has a huge res­i­den­tial com­po­nent,” said Brian Bur­chall, chair of the Mirvish Vil­lage BIA. “We wel­come that. There’ll also be con­sid­er­able re­tail. The re­tail that’s planned there will be equal to what was there be­fore, which is pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary if you think about it.”

Part of West­bank Corp.’s re­tail vi­sion is main­tain­ing some of the pre-ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity gems, like A Dif­fer­ent Book­list, an Afro­cen­tric in­de­pen­dent book­store and cul­tural hub that fo­cuses on titles from di­verse peo­ple, which has been moved into the B. streets con­dos and will be­come a larger com­mu­nity cen­tre when the new Mirvish Vil­lage is built. Le­tovsky ad­mits that West­bank had ap­proached Spiro to buy the build­ing.

“Ini­tially, the think­ing was ‘It would be great to in­te­grate that into the property,’ ” said Le­tovsky. “But now we think that it’s ac­tu­ally this re­ally in­ter­est­ing tal­is­man of the past in the mid­dle of the property. Cer­tainly, that flavour of di­verse re­tail is ex­actly what we’re go­ing for with Mirvish Vil­lage.”

In the de­sign plans, 758 and 756 Bathurst St. are the only three­storey brick build­ings nes­tled be­tween tow­ers of glass con­dos, soar­ing well over 20 storeys higher.

So for now, the lo­cal pur­veyor of Blood­stone en­ergy crys­tals, tarot cards, psy­che­delic man­u­als and ve­gan cheese­cakes will re­main as it is while the area gets over­hauled from the ground up.

“It was re­flec­tive of the whole area that had ex­isted be­fore. I would ex­pect that they would still be there af­ter the de­vel­op­ment,” said Bur­chall of Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing.

West­bank Corp. is aim­ing for a con­struc­tion com­ple­tion date of late 2020 to early 2021.

–– Jessica Wei

“We’re adding more lay­ers on, in­stead of wip­ing out what was there and start­ing with some­thing com­pletely new.”

Re­vaz Mekv­abishvili, owner of Al­ter­na­tive Think­ing, in front of his store on Bathurst Street

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