Tucked away off the beaten path and away from the throngs of tourists is what the proprietor calls one of the last vestiges of hippiedom in Woodstock. The Shivastan Bookshop & Art Gallery is behind the American Legion post at 6 Sgt. Richard Quinn Drive (formerly Hillcrest Avenue).
One feels entering the shop like they’ve been invited into owner Shiv Mirabito’s personal library. In a way, that’s true. Since he eschews the materialistic world and lives a frugal lifestyle, the store doubles as his living space. Mirabito offers visitors a cup of tea and regales them with stories of his yearly travels to India and Nepal, where he has gone since 1988.
He specializes in books and gifts from India and Nepal, and also sells books of his own poetry printed on paper handmade in Kathmandu. He also has a section on Woodstock area history.
Out the back door is a garden area with chairs arranged in a circle. This is where Mirabito hosts regular poetry readings.
He grew up in Norwich, a small North Country New York town that is hardly a bastion of counterculture. One of his first exposures to hippie culture came when he visited Woodstock in high school around 1983, then more frequently when he graduated in 1985. He then lived on Allen Ginsberg’s poetry commune in Cherry Valley, near Cooperstown.
“And so that’s how I got involved with poetry and esoteric spirituality and all that kind of thing. And yoga and vegetarianism, stuff like that,” he said.
Mirabito earned a degree in anthropology to SUNY Oneonta and became interested in India.
“One time I went to India with one of the professors for a semester, and he essentially just wanted to go visit his relatives,” he said. “So he brought a dozen students along, and then I saw how easy it was there. There’s this whole hippie travel culture there, you know, the hippie trail. And I thought, wow, this is very Woodstock, you know. And of course, you meet all these old hippies here in Woodstock who like went to India in the Sixties and all that.”
Mirabito managed Dharmaware on Tinker Street for 22 years in the space Tinker Taco Lab currently occupies. The owner went bankrupt, and Mirabito had to figure out the next phase in his life.
“So I just thought, Okay, I’ll have a shop in my house. And so I love books and I collect books, so I thought I’ll just have a bookshop and then I bring back stuff like, you know, crafts and jewelry and incense and stuff like that from India and Nepal, and it’s enough of a small business that I can support myself and I live very cheaply.”
He doesn’t have any family. He doesn’t have a car. He doesn’t have a TV.
The building used to house Woodstock Children’s Center, which became Woodstock Day School when the former school moved to Saugerties.
Mirabito’s simple lifestyle allows him to save the $1000 airfare and modest amount of spending money, which allows him to spend January through June in India and Nepal. He sublets his store and home to a friend while he is away.
“For like $500 a month, you can live like a king. So that’s basically what I do. I just bring two or three thousand bucks,” he said. “I can’t imagine not doing that. I didn’t go the last two years because of the pandemic. I was like, okay, I grew up here in New York. I can handle the winter. But it just gets so boring here in the winter.”
He sees doing to India and Nepal as a way to escape winter depression and boredom.
People are grateful when you return, he noted. “If you go away every year, then everybody’s happy to see you. They say ‘Oh, did you just get back?’” he said. “It’s the same over there. Because I go to the same places there every year, they’re like ‘Oh, did you just get back?’’
In 2020, Mirabito got stuck because the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, has been closed due to the pandemic.
“I had no idea. Maybe I’ll be here for who knows, five, ten years,” he mused. “But I was definitely glad to get back because I love my garden and I love being close to town.”
The Shivastan Bookshop makes up part of a sort of hippie corner. Next door, Paul McMahon, his landlord, runs the music and performance venue called the Mothership.
At one point it looked as though Mirabito and others would have to move because the property was for sale. A benefactor saved the day for McMahon.
“We thought we’re going to have to move to Margaretville or something,” said Mirabito, “and somebody just threw him the money to buy the buildings. So now he’s able to keep it going.”
McMahon charges Mirabito a modest rent, and they both are able to keep their slice of culture going.
The store is open daily from 1 to 6 p.m. Check out Woodstock Shivastan Poetry Ashram: Book Store, Art Gallery & Giftshop on Facebook for upcoming events