330 South Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231
p 410 244 7221 f 410 244 7225
For Dave Eggers and the people at McSweeney's, starting a tutoring program was just the beginning. Their goal was to create a space where students could find free one-on-one support with their writing. In the early 2000's, Eggers and his team relocated to 826 Valencia Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. This became their new headquarters and would double as a tutoring center. In the midst of renovations the landlord informed them that the building was zoned for retail. A minor setback that would ultimately lead them to design and produce authentic pirate goods. Peg leg oil, pre-fabricated messages in a bottle, beard extensions—826 Valencia was a pirate supply store in the front, with writing labs and an office in the back.
In theory, a student that is mentored for one hour every week of the school year can improve their writing skills by a letter grade. A major obstacle that teachers face is finding the time to meet individually with their students. If the students aren't getting the attention they need at school, 826 Valencia would be there to foster writing skills and help with homework. With enough volunteers, it isn't a significant time commitment. Many writers, editors, journalists, and professors have the flexible schedules that are required to lend their creative counsel.
When the writing labs opened in 2002 the store front seemed like more of an inside joke. Now 826 is a full blown non-profit with seven other locations nationwide and two international affiliates. Each store boasts their own unique line of products. 826 attributes the success of their tutoring program, in part, to the creativity and appeal of these stores. Where else could someone buy a "superhero cape" or "milk from the future" and know that the proceeds are giving students an invaluable resource for learning?
"The story of the 826 National Storefronts is a lesson in how non profits have to stay flexible and creative to survive, and to achieve some kind of financial independence."
—Essentially Odd: a catalog of products created for and sold at the 826 sotres
If Baltimore had an 826, what would it be?