Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers drew a large audience to Berkeley Rep Monday night, and he treated his listeners to an amusing collection of self-deprecating stories. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll just had to probe Eggers gently, and then the author of numerous bestselling books was off on a roll.

The most interesting thing the pair discussed was the Eggers-sponsored collection of tutorial centers around the country. When Eggers rented a vacant storefront at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, he had to sell products to comply with zoning regulations. So he and his friends came up with the idea of selling pirate products at The Pirate Store, which delighted the kids and provided enough income to pay the store’s rent.

As Eggers and 826 National have opened other tutoring centers around the country, they have replicated the whacky stores with far out themes. Each has its own theme:

The 826 in Brooklyn sells superhero-related items. At the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company Store, kids can get custom-made capes. They can try out their flying capabilities by stepping on a platform, where three blowing fans show how the cape will spread out in flight.

826 Chicago has a store with all sorts of spy equipment. But since no self-respecting spy would be caught coming into the store, it is named The Boring Store. The window displays are boring too, and nobody notices anyone coming into the store.

826 Seattle has The Greenwood Space Travel Supply Store. All you need for visiting outer space.

826 Los Angeles features the Echo Park Time Travel Store. Its motto is “Whenever you are, we’re already then.”

826 Boston is The Bigfoot Research Institute, devoted to the exploration of all things Bigfoot. (You know, the furry monster.)

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, there is the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Store. If your robot breaks down while cleaning the house, you have a handy repair place.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...