Behind the veil
Robots as bait
by Matthew Shutler
Like a flashy lure, Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair demands attention. From the street, large windows give an unobstructed view of comical, lounging robots and kid-friendly shelves lined with boxes of mechanical arms, windup toys, and other futuristic gadgets. But what's behind that crimson velvet curtain?
"The shop is only here to get people to come in and ask questions. Every day people are let in on the joke," explains Tyler Brubaker, the white-coated shopkeeper. The "joke" is that the store is a front for 826michigan-a nonprofit tutoring center. Four days a week after school, about twenty students, ages eight to eighteen, work with volunteers in a curtained-off study area behind the store, mainly on motivation and writing. "The shop is the perfect shill for 826," Brubaker says. "Kids who come in here for the first time get the joke, and it eases their fears about the academic side." "I get to finish my homework and get help," says eight-year-old Bushra. Her newest skill: "I learned how to write haikus a couple days ago."
[Originally published in January, 2009.]