I have a new book written by kids for kids. Well, it’s cute and charming, and I bought it… so it’s clearly for adults too. The book “Where Is It Coming From?” is the most recent release from 826Michigan, one chapter of a large network of 826 shops all over the country. The shops are actually creative writing and tutoring centers for kids, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside. Each shop is a little quirky storefront and the tutoring center is in the back offices. Michigan’s quirky store? Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair.
Why is a robot store publishing books? The roots of this comes from the first shop, 826 Valencia, in San Francisco. The non-profit’s founder, Dave Eggers, had set-up the first tutoring center in an area in San Francisco that was zoned for retail. The city informed them they had to sell something. So what did the creative sorts come up with? Supplies for the everyday pirate. Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. Friends bought me a fake mustache, a wooden spoon, and a pirate t-shirt when they visited the store. Business BOOMED and the proceeds supported the non-profit. They said the store quickly paid the rent on the whole space.
The shop was so successful they replicated it in other places. A superhero supply in New York, where they have a cape test area, with a fan built in so you can see it waving in the breeze. A yeti research shop in Boston that was so unusual that the cops cased it for sometime before entering inside to ask what was going on. The Boring Store in Chicago is a front for a spy store… they were deep undercover. LA has a time travel convenience store. Seattle has a space travel supply. Washington DC has the Museum of Unnatural History, which gave me this gem:
The text on the jar says, “Missing Link. Generations of scientists spent their lives searching for it. Now it can be yours.”
All these wonderful stores are just kitschy and enjoyable to me. I’ve worked in and volunteered for non-profits for a long time, so their unique blend of personality and commitment to their mission really strikes a chord with me. I’ve been a long time supporter, visiting half of the shops personally, but also buying the books they publish. They publish books regularly, like the book above, so these kids are PUBLISHED AUTHORS. BEFORE THE AGE OF 18. Isn’t that awesome?! I wish we had something like this when I was a kid.
Some recent and good news is that they’re starting a new store/center in Detroit. The one in Ann Arbor is nice and has done a lot of good, but it’s really pretty far from the Metro Detroit area, so it makes it hard for them to connect with some of the schools in this area that would really benefit from the field trips and one-on-one tutoring opportunities.
They’re working on building the new shop as I type. I hope to be a volunteer. I feel like writing is such an important skill. It gives importance to self expression, builds self esteem, and is a crucial skill for one’s adult life. I love how these shops have focused on that, while having a little fun while they’re at it. It’s just a wonderful thing and I’m very excited that they exist.
To learn more about the 826 stores, visit 826national.org. Maybe consider making a donation or buying one of their books!