Culture  Little shop of wonders

Mile End gallery space defies easy categorization

Few dare venture outside its confining grasp. With sustenance and classes so close, the tempting allure of campus subdues the lazy student. But something beckons from the stretches of Mile End, a cause for exploration and intrigue. Unknown to the McGill academician, there is indeed an escape from the monotony of living in the bubble.

Monastiraki, a Mile End gallery, is a place that tries to seduce the artistic inhibitions of all those willing to explore it. Founded in 1998, the boutique has evolved from a curiosity shop packed with items to a local gallery with no need for a stricter definition.

The Monastiraki of today, much like the neighbourhood it inhabits, does not resemble its early self. The hip scene that now pervades the Plateau and Mile End was all but absent 10 years ago. Billy Mavreas, the owner of Monastiraki, joked, “It was only the few, the proud, and the weird who came in here.” With little light and no walking space, the shop was as uninviting as the scene surrounding it.

As Mile End experienced revitalizing gentrification, Monastiraki moved closer to what it is today. Cleared of its antique clutter, a gallery emerged, showcasing the work of dozens of local artists. Building upon its foundation as a shop, Monastiraki expanded its inventory to include creations by Mile End’s designers, most of which are for sale. To put a label on Monastiraki would be to limit its creative potential. As Mavreas put it, “I always say I wasn’t put on this earth to sell lamps and chairs. I love art, I love people, and I love finding things.”

Surely not just a trendy boutique, Monastiraki invites those curious enough to enter and discover the history within. There are no part-time employees, no staff there just to occupy the register. Unlike other Montreal venues, Mavreas noted that “when you come in here you’re faced with what you see. And depending on your level of engagement, it’s about getting that personal touch.” As important as the art inside are the happenings, the banter, and the laughs that ensue.

This personal touch sets Monastiraki apart. Mavreas and his partner Emilie O’Brien form relationships with all who enter, and even with the art they display. Mavreas remarked, “I know everything that’s in here. Where to find it. I could tell you the story behind it.” Although it is for sale, the art holds no real market value. To the owners of Monastiraki, it is comprised of personal meaning, and the store’s atmosphere reflects that.

In spite of the area’s redefinition as an artistic hub, Mavreas claims that Monastiraki’s essence remains undiluted. As more venues and trendy boutiques emerged, Monastiraki became something of a rarity. Mavreas commented, “I want it to be an experience. I don’t want this to be replicable. You’re not gonna turn the corner and find another shop like this.”

Minutes from campus, but cities away in the mind of a typical student, Monastiraki represents a step into culture most are unwilling to take. With an explosion of creativity happening blocks from our doorsteps, Monastiraki tempts us to flee from confinement. Whereas those educated in the arts may find stimulation in the experience of the gallery, “the same thing goes for Joe citizen,” Mavreas remarked. “He might like it, and why not?”

Monastiraki is located at 5478 St. Laurent