Stranded in Chicago after a rendezvous went wrong? Stuck with no way to smuggle your secret message into your co-conspirator’s bag of groceries? Simply seeking to kill time while waiting for your fellow traveler? Fear not, spies – the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. has it handled.
Located on an unassuming block of Milwaukee Avenue, within shouting distance of two wig shops (perfect for enhancing your disguise), the Secret Agent Supply Co. sells every essential tool for the modern spy: shaving cream cans with false bottoms (to hide contraband), realistic-looking fake security cameras (to discourage your meddling twin), and tuxedo cell phone cases (to help your mobile device blend in at a classy party).
The Secret Agent Supply Co. supports the spy as a person of letters, as opposed to a Bourne-like action brawler. It stocks writerly accoutrements like camera pens, notebooks, and story prompt flipbooks, as well as books for the entire spy-family. (I especially enjoyed the board-book versions of literary classics, because it’s never too early to introduce your child to Pride and Prejudice.)
The back wall displays literary fiction and social-justice-oriented nonfiction, much of it with ties to Chicago. By far my favorite are the anthologies of student writing, such as Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids’ Letters to President Obama.
Formerly disguised as “The Boring Store,” the Secret Agent Supply Co. is actually a front for 826CHI, the Chicago chapter of the non-profit 826 National. Founded in 2002 by Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, 826 National seeks to enhance children’s writing skills by hosting writing workshops, providing one-on-one tutoring, and creating teaching materials.
During my visit, I peeked at the office/tutoring area in the back of store (hardly a difficult assignment: the door was, and seems to always be, open). That quick glimpse showed me a clean, kid-friendly space with casual seating and samples of student writing prominently displayed on the walls.
Various regional 826 programs operate similarly whimsical storefronts in Ann Arbor, Boston, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (Themes include pirates, superheroes, and cryptozoology.)
Readers, if you’ve been to an 826 bookshop, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!