Just Opened: 826 Valencia Tenderloin

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There have long been, um, unconventional goods for sale in the Tenderloin, but the neighborhood’s newest addition is stocked with treasures that we’re sure you’ve never heard of, such as unicorn-horn polish, glittery gnome repellent and ogre dental floss. 826 Valencia has brought its magic to the Tenderloin, opening up a beautiful and whimsical new outpost that offers reading and writing workshops for kids, as well as a place where the imagination can’t help but run wild.

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About 826 Valencia
Founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari in 2003, 826 Valencia supports under-resourced students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills. And they do so in a setting as far from staid classroom as possible, as their locations are all fronted by shops that traffic in fantastical items fit for pirates, explorers and imagineers of the highest order. The original Mission district location was the first, and others have since opened in Chicago, DC, LA, Boston, Michigan and NYC.

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Treehouses, Trapdoors and a Bear-cycle
King Carl’s Emporium opened its doors on May 19 of this year. King Carl is a performing pufferfish. If this doesn’t set the tone for what you will find inside the new 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center, the dreamy green, under-the-sea themed mural that has taken over the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth (formerly the home of Big Boy Market, at an intersection known for drug trafficking) should further prepare you.

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On the day we attended recently, 3 dozen young students from a nearby school were taking to the stage to perform their own poetry, with a few watching from the balcony level of a multilevel playhouse featuring hidden doors, rope ladders and countless places to curl up with a good book.

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Visit or Volunteer!
“We’re excited to be joining a neighborhood with a strong network of community partners and a great need for free services, and to help the students of the Tenderloin amplify their voices through writing in a beautiful space that fosters creativity,” says 826 Valencia’s Executive Director, Bita Nazarian.

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Events to engage the whole community, such as Four Corner Friday, which happens the first Friday of the month throughout the summer, helps the neighborhood learn what this nonprofit has to offer (such as tutoring, writing workshops and field trips for students who want to learn how to make their own podcasts. And 826 is always looking for volunteers—get more info here. The store is open daily from 11 am to 4 pm.

180 Golden Gate Ave.
SF, Ca
Online: 826valencia.org

And 826 Valenica is far from the only fun spot for families in the Tenderloin. If you come by for a visit, be sure to read our guide to the Tenderloin for places to eat, play and explore.

Have you been to 826 Valencia? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

–Erin Feher

All images by the author