As we stroll along Sunset Blvd one unextraordinary day, we come across a store that steals our attention more than most on this busy street. Echo Park is privy to one-of-a-kind businesses bordering on eccentric or highly niched (think Button Mash, Alternate Universe or Memento Mori), but this shop in particular is a horse — or dinosaur — of a different color.
As per usual, curiosity gets the better of us and we find ourselves crawling through the plastic fern-embellished windows, down into another place and time. On the other side, we are greeted by a seemingly friendly, albeit disheveled caveman and a robot resembling B-9 from Lost in Space. We then notice we have also changed to fit our surroundings; having morphed into another dimension in our descent down the rabbit hole of time, we now channel the past’s vision of the intergalactic future. With towering beehives and get-ups fit for any fembot, space-traveling warrior, we courageously embark further into this brave new world.
We bid goodbye to our new friends and enter another land where we are dwarfed by giant cans of Mammoth Chunks alongside human-sized bottles of bubble gum-pink Barbarian Repellant — both things we’ll later need to survive and ward off unwanted space pests. These are, of course, enlarged replicas of smaller items we’ll find ahead on our journey, along with other oddities like Mad Scientist Goggles, Robot Milk and bottles of Isms.
Slightly confused? Fear not, we have merely warped light speed through wormholes, galaxies and time to find ourselves at The Echo Park Time Travel Mart, the one-stop-shop for all time travel needs. Many curious bypassers find themselves here, perusing the encased shelves of farm fresh dinosaur eggs and eventually leaving with a renewed Pastport or some other kitsch trinket, often without realizing the real purpose behind this quirky shop. We, however, with spears in hand are determined to unleash the secrets behind this wondrously bizarre place.
And what did we discover? The Echo Park Time Travel Mart is in fact “a street-front retail store” created to raise funds and awareness for the non-profit organization, 826LA. As a chapter of the greater 826 National, 826LA is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.”
Made possible in part by a small yet ample staff, interns and an impressive fleet of 3,000+ volunteers, 826LA has offered after-school tutoring, workshops, field-trips and even help with college applications to over 8,600 students at three Los Angeles locations. Underprivileged students who may otherwise lack certain academic and creative opportunities are given the one-on-one attention and skills needed to help them achieve their future goals.
Many students’ works are published in-house via the Young Authors’ Book Project, where they are guided step-by-step through the process of book production. And with the support of notable Advisory Board members such as J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow and Fiona Apple, students have been given the unique experience to participate in workshops and projects like Q&As at Bad Robot Productions (J.J. Abrams’s production company), and the 2012 music project, Chickens in Love. In the latter, students penned songs later performed by artists including Apple, one of which was which was featured in This is 40, directed by Apatow. The students who wrote this particular song “were honored with a scholarship, received IMDB credit, and get royalties.”
It’s somewhat baffling to realize that many of these impressive accomplishments, along with the daily, focused work from the students and volunteers, take place right behind the Time Travel Mart’s galactic walls, dinosaur incubators and Neanderthalian nooks. Knowing this now, the parallels between shop and organization are made poignantly clear with the overlapping metaphor of creative possibility and circumstantial transcendance. In both these dimensions, anything is possible; a moral undoubtedly passed along to the thousands of 826LA students.
For those of you inspired by the world beyond The Echo Park Time Travel Mart, consider volunteering for 826LA. From what we’ve heard and seen first hand, it’s an experience equally enriching, awesomely adventurous and creatively fulfilling for both volunteers and students alike. Along with the obligatory robot replacement arm, the many zines, anthologies, essay collections, survival guides and stories created by the students are available to purchase in-store to fuel your own creativity and aid you on your journey through time. And who knows, perhaps you’ll even see us, down the wormhole, munching on Mammoth Chunks with our friends, the robot and caveman.