Sneakerheads: Subculture of Shoe Collecting

“They like a place nobody knows,” the blond-haired clerk with gauged earlobes said. She sat in a small hardwood-floored sneaker shop called Memes on Great Jones Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo. She summed-up the world of sneaker collectors: “They like a shoe nobody has.”

Sneaker collectors, known as sneakerheads, thrive off exclusivity. Memes doesn’t advertise and the storefront is hardly distinguishable as a sneaker store. Even the sneaker boutique powerhouse Flight Club, at 812 Broadway, has no sign at all– just rows and rows of sneakers.

Maybe the most disguised store is Boston’s Bodega. Bodega is tucked away on Clearwater Street, away from the hustle and bustle of Newbury Street. Like Flight Club, it has no sign. In fact, it doesn’t even have shoes. Spanish foods, dish detergent and nick-knacks line the walls, until you walk in front of the Snapple machine. In a Scooby-Doo-esque manner, the machine slides over to reveal a hidden store stocked with some the rarest shoes, such as the Bodega x Saucony Elites. Only 300 pairs were available worldwide in each of the three colors.

Shoe brands like Nike and Air Jordan cause such a stir that people will camp out, sometimes for days, to claim their pair. On Dec. 23, 2011 Jeremy Beltran was standing outside the Garden Plaza Mall in New Jersey at 1:30 a.m. in the pouring rain. Beltran was not alone– hundreds of people had joined him to get their hands on the Jordan XI Concords, one of the most popular Jordan’s of all time.

According to Nice Kicks, a sneaker blog, when the Jordan XI was released for the second time in 2000-2001, it sold out the fastest and highest quantity of any Air Jordan. It sold out in all 15 different color selections.

Beltran stood in line until 7 a.m. when the mall opened its doors.

“People were going crazy. I sprinted into the mall Footlocker…We were face to face with people. It was ridiculous,” Beltran said.

Beltran said he saw four arrests, two fights and a security guard being trampled by shoppers. As it turned out, he was at one of the nine entrances, all of which also had hundreds of people, Beltran said. He had heard the mall would have 700 to 1000 pairs. Not everyone would be going home with a pair.

“The more exclusive a shoe is, the worse things will happen,” Beltran said.

Sneaker camp-outs conjure images of the madness of Black Friday, but these shoes don’t come at a sale price. Concords retail from $150 to $195. Flight Club boasts kicks at even higher prices– in a glass case by the counter in the store, are Nike Air Yeezy’s and the Nike Galaxy Foamposite. They carry a $900 and $2,200 price tag, respectively.

Flight Club is a consignment store and buys shoes from sellers in new or excellent condition. They have from Air Jordan and Nike to Adidas, Asics, Vans, Converse, New Balance and Reebok. Broadway’s satellite store on Greene Street was the original flagship store until it moved in 2009. The man behind the counter explains the appeal.

“People want to get something they didn’t expect to get,” the clerk said.

He points to a pair of Nike Air Max 1’s. The shoe was made in collaboration with the skateboard company Huf but was never put into production or released, making it one of the rarest shoes in the world.

But how does this happen? How does someone who normally spends no more than $60 for a pair of trainers spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on used sneakers?

Sneakerheads Beltran and Zach Higgins point to basketball and Michael Jordan.

Higgins explained, “I played basketball so I always wanted the freshest, top of the line kicks…From there it took off.”

Beltran said he wanted to be cool and fit in with his older brother and friends, who all wore Jordans.

Higgin’s favorite shoe, the Concord, is simple, with white mesh uppers and sleek black patent leather midsoles.

“MJ wore the shoes during the 72 regular season win year, which has been called the greatest season ever,” Higgins said.

Jordan changed the sneaker game forever, Beltran said. Now, even smaller brands such as Asics are creating high-end shoes. On March 2, Asics released the Rose Gold GT-II’s and they sold out the very same day. With all the hype and history from stars like Jordan, sneakers have gone from something to wear at the gym to a statement of cool.

“At the end of the day, they’re just shoes,” Beltran said.

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