We were passing by what looked like an opening of another variety store in our block of Echo Park, Los Angeles. We love our neighborhood and we were hoping for a nice coffee shop or a bookstore, but seeing that it’s another convenience store, we were a bit disappointed.
A few days later on a Friday night, we saw a huge line outside the same store. We asked people in line what they were waiting for. They said they were waiting for a reading at 826. Sure enough, the sign said The Echo Park Time Travel Mart. This definitely wasn’t the average store.
Having lived in San Francisco for quite some time, we were huge fans of the original 826 Valencia on Valencia Street in the Mission district. The storefront is called the Pirate Supply Store and it sells all kinds of crazy stuff like glass eyes, eye patches, and even whale fat, though we don’t think it’s from a real whale…. basically, everything a pirate or a kid would need and love. This is the original concept of 826, to build a themed storefront (like a pirate store and time travel mart) that directly funds the community programs that happens in the same space! In the back of the storefront is a big room where writing workshops are held for kids. The 826 philosophy is that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. Given that basic principle, 826 provides drop-in tutoring, after-school workshops, in-schools tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. The founder of 826, Dave Eggers is one of our favorite writers and we love McSweeney’s Quarterly and The Believer Magazine, which he is also a big part of. It’s no wonder with such vision, creativity, and community support, the 826 Valencia has expanded into a national organization with chapters all over the United States.
Back in Los Angeles, we were walking one day in Echo Park and stopped in the 826LA Time Travel Mart. They were just in the beginning stages of opening the space, setting up the storefront and furnishing their learning space. Inside the shop, they had milk jars filled with sugar called “Jupiter Farms Robot Milk” and a fake slushy machine called “Time Freezy Hyper Slush” with a sign that said “Out of order. Come back yesterday.”
In the back of the storefront was a big hollow room where the tutoring and writing workshops would be held.
Before Poketo, we both taught video production and graphic design to youth in San Francisco. We’ve always loved the 826 concept of inviting the community through the storefronts while providing a great and fun environment for the kids to learn in their “classroom”. We reached out to the co-executive director and told her that we love their organization and wanted to help them in any way possible . She recognized our wallets and she said she loves them and owns one herself. A few weeks later, she contacted us and we decided to collaborate on making 826LA series wallets. Our goal was to make something special for their storefront that could help raise funds for their workshops and programs. 826LA held a special workshop, aptly named “When Wallets Eat Words”, led by screenwriter James Ponsoldt where the kids learned to write a short story. From those stories, we handpicked some of the best LA based artists to illustrate their stories to be covers of Poketo wallets. So, their illustrations are on the front, and the kids’ handwritten stories are on the inside of the wallets.
We invited 10 LA-based artists, Tim Biskup, Esther Pearl Watson, Mark Todd, Martha Rich, Chris Bettig, Leah Chun, Rama Hughes, Christine Castro, John Pham, and Keith Knueven to interpret the kids’ writing. All of the artists were so happy to jump on board and they had a lot of fun illustrating the stories, giving back to their community and learning a little something about themselves at the same time (read the interviews for all of their secrets!). All the wallets are so special and we’re so proud of the outcome. We hope people can find out more about 826LA through this project and help support this amazing organization.