Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. 372 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NYC 11215, USA
A secret within a secret lurks behind the façade of an inconspicuous red brick building in Brooklyn, NYC. Big, bombastic signs in the style of an old fashioned hardware store declare: “If we don’t have it, a superhero doesn’t need it” ; “Supersonic shipping to select universes” and even “We can help you with your nemesis problem.”
The Superhero Supply Company, at first glance, seems to be just that; a no-frills, one-stop shop for superheroes. In need of a new cape? A full-service “capery” allows you to test drive your cape after fitting; climb up the steel steps and face a wind tunnel of three huge fans to see it in action. Wondering if your powers of invisibility are what they once were? The shop’s “licensed” Invisibility Testing Centre will measure your superpower under “common crimefighting conditions” like gamma-ray bombardment, partial molecular destabilization and . . .sleepiness. Or perhaps you just need to top-up your superpower. Superhero Supply Co. stocks a full range of superpower tonics by Aarvark Bros. brand: $13.99 will buy you a 16oz. metal bottle of intuition or you can bulk-buy large barrels of “salted” bravery. Telepathy, self-detonation, sonar and e.s.p are also sold in serviceable 32 oz. and half-gallon bottles. While omnipotence can be bought for a mere $12, a time portal will set you back $3.8 million.
Superheroes looking for new disguises can pick up a pair of secret ID glasses (marked with logo “strive to be boring”) and discreetly browse through a wide assortment of secret identity kits. Each kit contains legal documents, a troubleshooting guide, and the info you need to assume a new identity, i.e. Ruben Fletcher: “Single, 46. An enthusiastic appliance salesman, employee of the month 3 times running, referred to by his coworkers as ‘Fletch.’ Collects and breeds parakeets in his parents’ garage and likes his coffee black” or Bunny Lipton: “Widow, 82. Plays mahjong with ‘the girls’ every Tuesday after ‘Survivor.’ She traditionally hosts since no one else’s house meets her high standards of cleanliness. Though most of her children and grandchildren are scattered across the states and Canada, Bunny keeps in touch using the WWW as firstname.lastname@example.org (Gerard is her favourite grandson.)”
While the shop is for superheroes only, signs do state that villains “with a change of heart,” will be welcomed. Handily, a computerized “devillainizer” can help ensure your shopping companions are above board. Ask them to step inside a metal chamber and answer questions like “do puppies make you smile?” to discover exactly what type of evil-doer they are…: “dastardly”, “roguish”, maybe “French” or simply, a “lawyer.”
Additional security measures are in place at the cash register. Purchases must be placed inside a mini dumb waiter and customers are asked to recite “the vow of heroism” before making their purchase: “I (full name) also known as (superhero name) promise always to use my superpowers for good. I promise that I will use the items purchased here today safely and in the name of justice. I promise to remain ever vigilant, ever true.”
‘Forces for good’ are indeed at work here. Superheroes-in-the-know share secret knowledge that in a dark corner of the shop, a wall of shelving camouflages a doorway/portal to a room with a mission: a warm, welcoming creative writing and tutorial center for kids called 826 NYC. 826 NYC is a non-profit organisation devoted to helping 6-18 year old kids develop creative writing skills through one-to-one attention offered by a team of dedicated volunteers. Every weekday afternoon after school, a stream of local kids make their way through the secret passageway to get what’s on offer at 826 NYC: free drop-in tutoring, workshops (about everything from comic book or short story writing to university entrance essays) and even publication of students’ own work. Kids can use 826 NYC’s computers and bookbinding equipment to make their creations real. The Superhero Supply Co. of course carries a complete stock of publications written and edited by the centre’s students.
826NYC is modeled after 826 Valencia, a nonprofit center in San Francisco’s Mission District (their shop out front is a pirate supply store), founded by writer Dave Eggers and a group of volunteers with a writing/publishing/teaching background. Both centres (and similar ones now established in LA, Seattle, Boston, Chigaco and Washington, D.C.) are locally funded, locally built and locally designed, all pro bono, by people who believe in the cause. Since its beginnings in 2004, the team at 826 NYC has grown to include 5 employees and over 1000 volunteers.
The shop in front is, in effect, an elaborate disguise for the good deeds going on behind it. The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. gives passers by a reason to drop in, discover and support 826NYC, but its ultimate purpose is to ignite the imagination of its target market. And it does, the second kids walk through the door – with clever, creative wordplay, eye-catching products and the seamless creation of a whole alternate universe. Sam Potts, the designer behind it all, has managed to walk the line between authenticity and humour. A sign at the entrance warns “rivalries and archrivalries must be left inside the store.” Another, near the cape tester, reads: “Let’s face it. Without one, you’re just some guy who looks like he’s falling.” Actual materials for sale are ordinary things that have been imaginatively rethought: paint, cleaning products, a lavamp is even repurposed as a “cyberkinetic henchfish.”
826 NYC’s secret room has its own lore. During workshops, kids from nearby schools are told that an ornery, revoltingly “smelly” publisher, H.Mildew, who lives several basements below the shop, will oversee their work. Clocks line the walls, telling the time in each of NYC’s five boroughs. To kids, this isn’t school, it’s a smart, funny concept that they’re “in” on. It’s a space they feel comfortable in, that they can own. Who wouldn’t want to become a superhero in the act of creating? The volunteers behind this place have done it, taking the “vow of heroism” very seriously, indeed.