By Kristen Holub
Imagine you are driving along N. Milwaukee Ave. checking out the shops when you see one that catches your eye. The huge signage at 1331 N. Milwaukee has a vintage feel to it with a man running with a shopping cart and you are intrigued…but then you see it’s called The Boring Store! What is this place?
Well, it turns out that The Boring Store is a sort of a spy-shop posing as a front for a fabulous not-for-profit organization called 826CHI which fosters creative and expository writing skills for kids ages 6 – 18. 100% of the sales from this secret agent supply shop are made with a sense of humor and benefit the free programming of 826CHI, the REAL idea behind the storefront.
826CHI is part of a network that writer Dave Eggers started in SanFrancisco in 2002. Eggers had wanted to start an after-school writing program but the space he wanted to rent said due to zoning, something had to be sold out of the commercial space. So he made the storefront a pirate supply store and ran the classes in the back! Each of the 7 cities that now have 826 programs are independently run, funded, and has their own storefront theme. The storefronts function 3 ways: they raise money for the organization, provide visibility raising awareness in the community (hence the huge humorous sign), and de-stigmatizes the space for those kids who are going in for tutoring or writing help.
In 2005, Leah Guenther founded the Chicago chapter and opened the storefront on Milwaukee Ave. in 2007. The store sells fun spy and sleuth-related items such as fake mustaches ($5), rearview sunglasses ($8), and a fake can that is really a real safe…otherwise known as a “can safe” ($17). The store is full of fun spy toys as well and would be a smart place to get a gift for your son the detective, or your niece who is into hiding her diary entries.
The writing/tutoring center works with schools (mostly Chicago Public Schools) and offers field trips, in-schools, workshops, tutoring and student publishing. Their programs served over 3500 kids over the 2007-2008 school year and that doesn’t include all of the kids that come for drop-in tutoring!
And the writing curriculum is no staid writing class! In the bookmaking field trip, the kids arrive and are told they need to create a story. Then author photos are taken with the authors wearing mustaches. As the story starts to form, a typist is typing it out and there is also an illustrator working with the kids as their story unfolds. A mean publisher speaks to the class over a PA system since he is allergic to children. As they near the end, the publisher tells the kids that he needs all 32 stories by the end of the day, and they are all shocked! So in order to please the publisher, each child makes up his/her own ending, making 32 “original” stories! Then each of the “authors” gets feedback from the publisher while the books are bound, and then they each leave with a copy of their very own book. How cool is that?
826CHI offers free drop-in workshops on evenings and weekends in various writing disciplines ranging from music-writing to comic book production. These special workshops are taught by tutors who are experts in their areas and give willingly of their time and knowledge.
Here are some great ways to get involved with 826CHI:
- Shop at The Boring Store, since all of the profits go toward 826CHI! They hope to see you sneaking in soon.
- Donate to support programming for your local students to strengthen their writing skills.
- Volunteer if you have writing experience or time to help tutor, teach workshops, run field trips or fundraise.
1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL
p – 773.772.8108
f – 773.326.3513
Kristen Holub Artist and business owner turned stay-at-home-mom. Kristen is expecting her 2nd child soon but will always be found running around town with her son, and doing her best to keep the household eco-friendly and under control while still jotting down and sharing great finds to share in Chicagonista.
Category: Shops & Services