The Many Lives of the Holy Dispensary

The former VB unveils a new sign indicating it’s faith-based

By Caroline McCarthy, Senior Writer

The cycling studio turned vintage shop, turned microgreens garden, turned dispensary has big plans to be Riverdale’s one-stop shop for all things health and wellness. It has become a staple in the Riverdale community, so much so that it has now filed to declare itself a faith-based organization (FBO). 

The shop has held many names over the years – including Vegan Botanika, Vegan Bodeguita (or Bodega) and Vintage Boutique – and has now added a new title to its awning. It now reads “Khensv Bvildr 508c1a Inc.” with “Private Membership” written underneath. 

According to its website, Khensv Bvildr is a non-profit church that is “serving the Bronx community with freshly grown produce (microgreens), clothing, natural healing modalities and continuing education programs meant to help empower its members with the confidence to live in service to there high selves.”

Owners Khensu and Ra McCray intended for the space to be an “iLiv” cycling studio in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans and the couple saw firsthand the need for something that encapsulated health and community in the Bronx. 

“We turned into, almost like a wellness center,” Ra told the Quadrangle in an interview last year. “People were coming here to have cacao ceremonies, they were coming here to meditate during the pandemic, they were using alternative medicines to Western approach that would allow them to edit their immune systems and be able to cope with the climate that we were in at the time.”

Its original concept, the Vegan Botanika, was a play on traditional botanikas found in Latinx communities, which sell religious goods and apothecaries. The McCrays sold medical herbs, lotions and homemade wellness juices and elixirs created by the owners. 

John Fata, a junior at Manhattan College, remembered going into the shop for the first time last year. 

“I went in by accident,” Fata recalls. The windows of the shop were completely blacked out, so John and some friends went to explore. “We walked in there, and like, we figured out what was going on because there’s that whiteboard in there and it has all the strains listed.”

Fata explained that the first time he bought marijuana from the shop, he needed to pay an inexpensive membership fee. Though this was before its FBO status, buyers were required to be a part of the organization. The membership fee is no longer enforced to purchase cannabis products. 

The success of the McCrays’ homemade juice and elixir brand birthed VB’s second life, the Vegan Bodeguita.  

“The concept was to create a deli with vegan treats and vegan food around the concept of a belly,” said Ra.

As this grew, the couple transformed the space again to a Vintage Boutique. As the space transforms, it keeps bits of its past life. The Vintage Boutique still had specialty chefs on the weekend, as the Vegan Bodega did and still sold the religious goods of the original apothecary. 

Its new 508c1a status registers the space as a nonprofit religious center and allows it to be tax-free. The US federal tax code 26 U.S.C. Section 508(c)(1)(A) states that “churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches” are under a “mandatory exception” to the filing requirements and are to remain tax-free. 

Additionally, FBO under 508(c)(1)(A) is not required to submit a 990 federal tax return or “keep such records, render under oath such statements, make such other returns or comply with such rules and regulations” that the Secretary may prescribe. However, because Khensv Bvildr is conducting a business, they still need to report their earnings to the government.

Whether a customer is religious or not, the space has a strong spirit when walking through its doors. The space in use is small – a microgreen farm, or possibly a cafè will soon be opened in the building next door – but is instantly lighter and calmer than the busy Riverdale street it sits on. 

While there is no recognized definition of a “church” by the IRS, the government has established a list of attributes an organization must have to qualify for this status. They include but are not limited to recognized creed and form of worship, definite and distinct ecclesiastical government [in this case, Ra and Khensu], membership not associated with any other church or denomination, literature of its own, organization of ordained ministers and regular religious services. 

Khensc Bvildr has both formal and informal services for its members, but it may not be the Sunday school you remember as a child. While some meetings are 420-free, others include enlightenment through herbs, which prompt conversations on spirit work and inner healing led by Ra and Khensu. 

Their website lists five formal events happening in July from the 10 to the 15.