Great Design: Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

Superhero life can be a bitch. Twenty-four-seven rescue calls. Tight, wedgie-prone costumes. And simply no place to shop for ocular radiation goggles, invisible beam sensors and gills growth formula.

But now, deep in the belly of New York City, boldly ascends the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., a retailer offering all sorts of galactic tchotchkes to vigilant legends—as well as to us ordinary earthlings. Superhero Supply also seizes a higher purpose—its secret mission is providing a winsome gateway for 826NYC, a nonprofit tutoring and writing center.

The Brooklyn facility was inspired by San Francisco’s 826 Valencia, the original tutoring and writing endeavor founded by Dave Eggers and others at McSweeney’s literary magazine. Volunteers offer students access to writing workshops, publishing projects and drop-in tutoring.

"We wanted an exciting entrance for 826NYC students, plus an enticement for passersby to wander in and learn about the center," says Sam Potts, the store’s designer. "Signs saying ‘Tutoring Center’ don’t pique the same interest as signs hawking secret-identity kits and supersonic shipping."

In designing the store, Potts went for an industrial and laboratory look to avoid confusing the facility with a toy shop. "We don’t use Benday dots or other retro elements," he says. "We want to be closer to a hardware store than a comic-book shop.

"We also created contraptions of practical use to any bona-fide superhero," he says. "For example, a cape tester blows air from a raised platform. A wall map glows to announce emergency calls. And a pivoting bookshelf serves as a secret door to the tutoring area."

Shelves are filled with brands such as Bugayenko Laboratories, Mt. Fortress Apparel and Mer Systems. Most products are for sale, including clocks, T-shirts and identity kits. Revenues support 826NYC’s tutoring and workshops.

"The concept works on so many levels," Potts says. "Kids love the gadgets. Adults appreciate the irony. And 826NYC gains exposure and dollars for its writing center. I hope the galaxy’s superheroes would approve."