Blog: Amanda Uhle

Amanda Uhle is Executive Director of 826michigan, a nonprofit center in Ann Arbor dedicated to supporting local young people with their writing skills - one of only seven centers in the U.S.. She'll be writing about 826, its impact on the community and even post samples of the kids' work.

Post No 4: The Many Faces Of 826

Have you ever been to a Pirate Supply Store? The pirate lifestyle requires an array of products: peg legs, glass eyes, spyglasses, eye patches. And in San Francisco, pirates visit 826 Valencia Street. The storefront has messages in bottles, a barrel of lard. But walk behind the skull and crossbones flag and on any given day you'll find a room full of kids writing and learning.

When you visit 826michigan at 115 E. Liberty Street, a red velvet curtain separates the robot supplies from the kids. Enter the front door, and you're in Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, Southeast Michigan's premiere robot showroom and service center. Offering a full range of products and services, including robot refits, rehauls, reboots, reformats, reprogramming, RAM upgrades, and reading comprehension classes. We're also the exclusive Midwest dealer for Better-Bot Brand Robot Parts. Keep walking and you'll find students at work on homework assignments, their own memoirs, storytelling though comics, or putting together the latest issue of the middle school student-written 826 Gazette. 

On May 17, more than 300 people turned out for the Grand Opening demonstrating that even humans like to shop here.

Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair is one of just seven such unique retail stores in the country. Other than San Francisco's pirates and Ann Arbor's robots, 826 writing centers also feature:

826 Seattle: Space Travel!

Greenwood Space Travel Supply

826 NYC: Superheroes!

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

826 LA: Time Travel!

Echo Park Time Travel Mart

826 CHI: Espionage!

The Boring Store

826 Boston: Cryptozoology!

Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute

All 826 writing centers use their retail storefronts in ways beyond the obvious. Of course, we earn money from product sales. Even though many people questioned our sanity when they considered our plan to open a retail store in this economy, sales are steady. It's an incredible asset as a nonprofit to have a means to earn money to offset contributed funds, and I think it's a good business model for us moving forward. We've also seen a tremendous spike in the public's interest in us—which we know translates into more volunteers and donors. Now that our retail front is established, people frequently pop in to figure out what's in a robot store. It's a great opportunity to tell them what happens "behind the red curtain".

Finally, Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair exists to help 826michigan students in an important way. Many of our students come to our programs specifically because they are not succeeding in school. The classroom experience is challenging or negative for certain students, especially those who feel confused by their assignments. To help them, 826michigan's programs and our physical space are all designed to be fun, engaging and dynamic. Since struggling students might feel reluctant to receive homework help or feel a stigma about going to a tutoring center, we can transcend that entirely. Visiting a robot store on your way to get homework help is pretty fun, and sometimes that little spark is all a student needs to focus.