When I arrived at Sneaker Con 2013, two things were immediately apparent. Firstly, I was the only chump there without a rubber sole, and second, some people are nuts about sneakers. Seriously. Nuts.
The line to get in stretched down the block, snaked around the corner, and then wound its way back to the venue, Pier 36, a gymnasium floating on New York City’s East River. Luckily, I had an express pass, although even this golden ticket presented me with a wait time of just over an hour, such is the growing popularity of the event.
In line behind me was Mark, a 39 years-young construction manager and self-confessed “sneakerhead” from Brooklyn. Mark owns over 200 pairs of sneakers and when I asked where he keeps them all he shrugged and said, “All over the house. The kitchen, the living room, the bathroom. I’m one pair of kicks away from having to get a storage unit.” I noticed Mark was sporting a pair of mint condition Reebok Pumps. I asked what started it all for him, the obsession. “When I was a kid I watched Dee Brown win the Slam Dunk Contest,” he said. “He was wearing a pair of Reebok Pumps and he pumped them up before he dunked. I thought if I could just get a pair of those sneakers, maybe I could dunk like him.”
When I got inside the convention was already in full swing: half a magical wonderland of things to put on your feet, half clusterfuck. A DJ filled the gymnasium with hip-hop beats and the floor was a bustling marketplace of vendors and sneakerheads buying, selling and trading. Anyone can do business here, so while official vendors and their stalls perimeter the gymnasium, hundreds of sneaker hustlers peppered the hall, waving choice footwear above their heads, yelling like brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, trying to attract a customer.
One such hustler is Tony from Brooklyn. Tony told me that he quit his job at a bakery last week to become a full-time sneaker dealer after a friend told him there’s a lot of money to be made. When I spoke to him, Tony was trying to shift a pair of used Nike Air Force 1’s for $400, telling me they’re indestructible. After I left Tony, I threw a quick google on “Nike Air Force 1” and couldn’t find a new pair for more than $300. Hopefully the bakery hasn’t yet filled Tony’s vacant position.
The main attraction at this year’s convention was the unveiling of retired NBA star Dikembe Mutombo’s re-issue Adidas basketball shoes. The man himself was in attendance: signing memorabilia, taking photos, and proudly exhibiting his size 22 sneakers. Meanwhile, over at the Extra Butter boutique, homage to the Kill Bill movies was paid through an artistic display celebrating the commercial release of the Asics sneaker that Uma Thurman wore to kick ass in the films.
For most, the attraction of Sneaker Con is the same thing that draws middle-aged men to a Star Wars convention – nostalgia. Frantz and Chris are two sneaker enthusiasts (not sneakerheads as they only own about twenty pairs each – important distinction) from Long Island that came to take a walk down memory lane. “All these retro sneakers remind me of being a kid,” said Frantz with a sentimental smile. “I love seeing them all in one place.”
“Owning a pair of Jordan’s as a kid was a big deal,” adds Chris, “because they weren’t cheap. It was a social statement.”
The next generation of sneakerheads was in attendance too. Jamaal, Raiden, and Nick are three 15 year-old entrepreneurs from Brooklyn who had come to trade and sell and hopefully make some cash. Jamaal told me it was his father that got him hooked on sneakers and he’s simply carrying on the legacy. Unfortunately, the boys’ appetite for pumped up kicks got the better of them and instead of trading and selling the only business they’d conducted since arrival were purchases.
According to the organizers of Sneaker Con, the average pair of kicks at the event goes for $250. The most expensive pair I saw was some Nike Zooms with a $750 price tag. Everybody I spoke to said that if they could have any sneakers in the world, they’d have a pair of Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy 2’s (one pair of Yeezy 2’s sold for a reported $90,000 in an online auction last year).
By the time I left the party, at a little after 4 p.m., there was still a line long of sneakerheads stretching several blocks waiting to get in. Some had given up and were now buying, selling and trading on the street. Most waited patiently on line, eager to get their junkie hit in sneaker utopia.
If you’re interested in learning more about sneakers, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offer a course called Sneakerology 101.