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826 Valencia

Shiver Me Timbers

"No whistling. No forgetting to swab. No first mate shall grow his beard longer than the captain, don earrings larger than the captain's, or rock a feather taller or more delightful than the captain's. Cannons shall not be fired in vain. Prisoners must be tied to something. No exceptions!" This is just a partial glimpse of the proclaimed code of conduct awaiting visitors to 826 Valencia, a pirate supply store cum writing center in the Mission district.

Acclaimed writer Dave Eggers is the mastermind behind this amazing establishment that has been peddling treasures from the cove and enlightening minds for a little over two years. Proceeds from sales of glass eyes, eye patches, quills, corked message bottles and other worldly wares help power the 826 Valencia writing project that provides drop-in tutoring, after-school classes, workshops, storytelling events, assistance with student publications and more free of charge to 8-18 year-olds.

Here youngsters may learn how to write about their secret identities and observe feeding of resident puffer fish Otka in the same visit, or get a hand with a college essay and pick up a peg leg. Ever wonder what being in water feels like to a fish? Visit the "fish theater" and read interviews with Francoise, Stuart and Karl -- representatives and tropical residents of the fish tank.

Pick up a skull and crossbones seal with two sticks of red wax for $26 to emboss all your correspondences. Colorful feather quills are $6, or you can opt for Chinese or Japanese brushes at $9. Glass and pewter ink wells run $32-$38 and a veritable selection of Mignon inkbottles beckon at $6 in rich jewel tones. 826 also offers a wide variety of pirate home furnishings -- rustic book ends, pirate flags, hooks whittled from branches -- as well as musical implements like windup music boxes, wooden flutes and percussive wooden instruments carved into frogs and hogs.

"But what if my pirate wardrobe was lost at sea?" you ask. Never fear -- pirate attire is in ample supply. You can go traditional (lace-up, ruffled shirt in white or brown) or modern (826 Valencia logo T's). Glass eyes range in price from $9-$25 and come in two sizes with varying shades of brown and blue. Currently 826 also carries a limited edition Glass Eye Book Set by local artist Sasha Wizansky that includes a hand bound care guide with historical information, a leather carrying case, and of course, a brand new glass eye.

$3 gets you a gold tooth plundered from mouths of Dread John Quelch's enemies. A variety of hair prosthetics come in a selection of colors and textures -- muttonchops, sideburns, moustaches, etc. Testimonials from Dread Captain Bess and Slippery Pete -- "Came in handy when I accidentally shaved my eyebrows" -- are posted in case you have doubts. 826 also carries scents concocted by local perfumer Yosh, some exclusively. With "Buxom", "Swashbuckler" or "Siren", there are essences for multiple pirate personalities.

The pure and earnest desire to create an atmosphere and program beneficial to children manifests itself in every tiny detail of the shop, from the selection of items to the design and arrangement of every knickknack. From the mural adorning the physical storefront (don't forget to look up) to the trap doors in the hardwood floors (lift for surprises!) and the different treasures that fill over 100 drawers, 826 is truly a sensory treat for adventurers of any age. Various works of art also decorate the walls and various spaces of the store; look for dioramas and 3-D scenes utilizing mixed media. Local artist and locksmith Lucas Murgida recently utilized the display window for an installation/class titled Unshackle, in which participants learned how to pick older-fashioned locks sans the skeleton key and freed themselves from an authentic ball and chain.

A wealth of books fitting into the pirate "era" share shelf space with other contemporary authors. While it is hard to resist a beautiful instructional manual on hand shadows or a book of revelations of a "Professional Rat-Catcher After 25 Years Experience," the shelf between the counter and the roped off room in the back showcases work of students who have participated in and benefited from 826's program. These volumes include poetry compilations, short stories and more. Fans of Egger's McSweeney's Quarterly Concern literary works and McSweeney's books can also indulge here.

Trinkets and treasures provide proof to kids that 826 is a fun and exciting place to learn. Adults may despair initially at finding that all the tantalizing workshops described in the pamphlets are for children. However, 826 Valencia offers paid workshops for adults in subjects such as magazine publishing and writing and publishing children's books. Adults can also get involved by volunteering as tutors and grants or events committee members.

David Byrne dubbed it "one of the top five pirate stores I've been to recently," but 826 Valencia is so much more than a peddler of pirate goods. Pirates and non-pirates, young and old, field trip time!