Saturday, March 05, 2005

Paying top dollar for sneakers


It's just past dawn on a frigid Saturday, but Travis McGarrell of White Plains is wide awake, bundled up and headed for Niketown on East 57th Street. The store is opening two hours early for the release of the Air Jordan Retro XIIIs, and this 18-year-old is determined to snag a pair.

McGarrell's worried, though. Niketown has a limited number of shoes for sale, and he's gotten word that some fans have camped out overnight.

He considered ditching his trip into the city. Then his inner sneakerhead — as these frenzied sneaker collectors are called — began to whisper.

Maybe, the voice said, you'll luck out. Maybe there won't be that many people there.

The voice couldn't have been more wrong.

The scene outside Niketown leaves McGarrell — along with a few of the store's usually jaded security guards — stunned. Hundreds of sneakerheads are snaked around the building, with about a dozen New York City police officers posted for crowd control.

Niketown managers say the throng topped 500 at one point, though it's thinned since blue wristbands were distributed at 3:30 a.m. Rumors float that only the first 165 in line got those bands, their ticket into the store when it opens at 8 a.m. Niketown won't confirm a number, and it's hard to tell how many buyers without bracelets are still hanging around, hoping to gain entry anyway.

"I figured I'd come and give it a shot," McGarrell says. "I never, ever thought it would be this crazy."

McGarrell might be a sneakerhead, but he's enough of a newbie to think he'll score these slammin' shoes by waiting or a mere hour or two. You see, to get kicks like this, you've really got to earn them.

You've got to be hard-core, like Joseph Butler and Matthew Shaw of Brooklyn, who spent a whopping 19 hours at Niketown.

They claimed first-in-line status at 1 p.m. Friday, spending the bitterly cold night commiserating with other sneaker fiends and alternating trips to the nearest 24-hour deli.

Butler, 23, and Shaw, 22, say they each own about 200 pairs of sneakers. This is their third weekend in a row spent in slush and snow outside New York City shops, trying to add a few more hard-to-get shoes to their stockpiles.

The Jordan Retro XIIIs are a big deal, they explain, because they're black and "altitude" green — colors not normally associated with the shoes' legendary Chicago Bulls namesake.

The friends see their hobby as fashionable fun, but not everyone shares their view.

"My wife thinks I'm crazy," Shaw says. "I talked to her last night, and she said to just call her in the morning. She's disgusted with me."

"I wear my Adidas when I rock the beat/on stage front page every show I go/it's Adidas on my feet high top or low" — Run-DMC

Like collectors of sports memorabilia or comic books, sneakerheads have formed their own unique brotherhood — and yes, it is almost exclusively men.

The community has grown so much in recent years, the independent online forum now boasts 4.7 million posts and more than 35,000 registered members. Competitions have started to sprout around the country, prompting sneakerheads to travel hundreds of miles to have their collections judged.

Some say that what was once an underground phenomenon has turned into hysteria. Cops were called two weeks ago to a Lower East Side shop when dozens of sneakerheads started a brawl in a scramble to get a pair of rare Nike Pigeon Dunks.

Sneaker freaks are usually young guys from urban areas, generations schooled on hip-hop and basketball culture.

They have their own lingo: Never-worn, perfectly preserved sneakers are "deadstock"; a "hyper strike" is when a company releases a few dozen shoes at only one place in the world.

Sneakerheads know the right stores in the right neighborhoods; they know the ones to go to for the latest styles and the ones to avoid because they jack prices way up. They scour Web sites looking for buys, spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, on a single purchase.

In fact, Steve Mullholand, publisher of Sole Collector magazine, claims that sneakers may be a better investment than the current stock market.

"I know a guy that has a fairly small collection, maybe 50 pairs of shoes," he says. "But I guarantee you, he could buy a Ferrari with that collection. A new one."

The Internet is littered with sneakers going for double, triple, even 10 times the retail price, depending on the shoe's vintage and condition. A pristine pair of 1985 Air Jordan I low-tops is now selling for $9,000 at, a site owned by Mullholand.

Some sneakerheads are indiscriminate when it comes to brand, veering from hot new labels like A Bathing Ape (known as BAPE) to old-school favorites like Air Force Ones. Others are faithful to Jordans, or to the Nike Dunk, a skateboarding shoe.

There are those who gravitate toward the rarest of the rare, like a Jordan XI sample "Space Jam" that has Michael's short-lived jersey number 45 on the back. Others are fashion mavens who want to break necks walking down the street; they're drawn to a shoe's artistry, such as the pop-art styling on an Adidas Superstar that pays tribute to Andy Warhol.

Then there are sneakerheads who fall into both categories. If they can afford it, they'll buy two pairs of the same shoe: one to put on ice, the other to show off and wear. Ironically, sneakerheads don't really care about the feature that made early sneakers so popular — comfort. Instead, what seems to stoke the most interest is exclusivity.

Shoe manufacturers often fuel a buzz for newer sneakers by releasing limited quantities; Nike is the master of this strategy.

"We'll sometimes do regional colors, darker on the East Coast, lighter on the West Coast," says Jordan brand manager Roman Vega. "It creates more demand for us. You'd have to call a friend to get it for you or fly there. It helps keep the brand hot."

So when a sneakerhead drops a ton of cash on Nike NYC Pigeon Dunks, he's also buying the assurance that only a reported 150 people in the world will have the same shoe.

"If you have one of those (limited editions), nobody else in your high school will have them. No one else in your state will have them," Mullholand says. "You're guaranteed people will go, 'Are you kidding me?' "

And while the unenlightened wouldn't know an All Star from an Air Max, sneakerheads can spot a sweet shoe in an instant.

"You can tell when someone knows what you're wearing," says Josh Rubin, a Manhattan-based designer whose blog about hip products,, has a section devoted to sneakers.

"You get like a nod, kind of showing respect."

"Rock my Adidas, never rock Filas" — Beastie Boys

Jeremie Harris of New Rochelle leads the way to the dorm room that houses the sneaker collection of his New York University classmate Mohammad Mohammad.

Mohammad's the true sneakerhead of the two, though Harris did stand outside Barneys New York for hours with his friend last month to snag some Kidrobot Air Max Is. With only an estimated 250 released worldwide, Harris quickly sold the $150 pink-and-black shoes on eBay to a buyer in Singapore for $400.

Even with the lure of fast cash, Mohammad wouldn't dream of letting his Kidrobots go — not after waiting in line for nearly a full day to get them. He hasn't laced up the shoes, and he's not ever planning to wear them.

He's never even slipped them on his feet.

"I'm keeping mine," he says. "After what I went through, these are a memory piece."

Mohammad, who's 18 and from Jackson Heights, works part-time at Banana Republic to help pay for his sneaker fixes. The job lets him do spontaneous things like plunk down $400 for Nike "Unkle" Dunks, which he did after fruitlessly searching for them online and then spotting them at a NoLita store.

He's not into Jordans anymore, and he hates Adidas: "They're the ugliest sneakers I've ever seen in my life."

Now Mohammad says he's on the verge of becoming a "Dunkaholic."

"Once you get into it," he says, "you can't stop."

"I said give me two pair/cause I need two pair/So I can get to stompin' in my Air Force Ones" — Nelly

Just one subway stop away, at the corner of Broadway and Bleecker, is a basement boutique called Nom de Guerre. It's known for having hard-to-find sneakers, and appropriately, the store itself is pretty hard to find.

The only sign of it at street level is its name stenciled on the sidewalk, in front of a dark stairwell that leads to a narrow corridor tunneled beneath a Swatch watch outlet. Entering Nom de Guerre through the first steel door on the right, you see racks of cutting-edge T-shirts and pricey designer jeans — but not a single sneaker.

So this is the place where Nas, Busta Rhymes and Kanye West come to update their vast collections? The store where — just a few weeks after it opened — Jude Law dropped by to scoop up $600 vintage Dunks?

Apparently so, if the shop's constantly ringing phone is any clue. Each time Nom de Guerre partner Wil Whitney picks up, he repeats the same thing: He's sold out of Nike Air Max 180s.

"We're trying to get a dozen more, but it doesn't look good," he tells one caller.

Whitney heads out the door and wanders down that dimly lit hallway. He unlocks another steel door to reveal a shoebox-size room. It's only a few shelves with a few dozen shoes, but a sneakerhead would call it nirvana.

None of these sneakers has a price tag, but you don't need one to know you won't find a bargain here. A glass case shows off the most valuable merchandise, including $800 Nike Air Forces made as a Roc-A-Fella Records promotion.

"So they were never for sale to the public," says Whitney, explaining the high cost.

Right now, Whitney says the store's owners are trying to figure out how to discourage sneaker resellers — those in the game just to make money, spoilers who'll take a true fan's place in line only to sell a hard-to-get sneaker for a huge profit.

The store is trying to compile a "hold" list, a roster of regulars who won't have to wait with the crowd at a sneaker release.

That way, Nom de Guerre might avoid situations like the one last week in which 40 customers turned up for 12 pairs of one-piece Laser Dunks.

"When that happens, there aren't a lot of happy people," Whitney says.

"And I be gettin' Nikes before they even get released" — Fabolous

Sneakers first gained cultural prominence in the 1950s, when James Dean was photographed in Levis and white athletic shoes. Last year, 493 million pairs were sold for a total of $16 billion.

But the start of the sneakerhead craze can be traced to the mid-1980s, when Michael Jordan put out his first shoe and changed the industry forever. Americans soon had no problem buying multiple pairs and shelling out three figures for each one.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Air Jordan; Nike just unveiled the $175 Jordan XX to mark the occasion.

"I was an anomaly of society when I had five, six pairs of sneakers under my bed in 1981," says Bobbito Garcia, author of "Where'd You Get Those? New York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987."

"That's like a small amount of sneakers to have now for a yuppie who works at Goldman Sachs."

Adam Goldstein, a Los Angeles disc jockey who goes by the handle DJ A.M., describes the current sneaker mania this way: "It's like Pokémon for adults."

Goldstein's own collection tops 500: Most are carefully boxed, marked with a Polaroid picture and stored in his garage. Among his prized possessions are black-and-white Jordan I's (purchase price: $800) and an original pair of never-worn, shell-toe Adidas from 1987, like the ones favored by pioneer rap group Run-DMC.

About 30 favorites are displayed like museum pieces on a "shoe wall" in the Hollywood Hills home he recently moved into with his fiancée, "Simple Life" star Nicole Richie.

"I had it in my old house, and she encouraged me to put it back up," Goldstein says. He laughs that Richie, famous for her own shopaholic tendencies, can "definitely relate" to his obsession.

"Guys don't get to accessorize the way girls do," he says. "We have shoes, that's what we have… They kind of represent your taste."

"Had to scuffle with freaks/I'm a addict for sneakers" — Nas

At exactly 8 a.m., Niketown's doors swing open and security lets in the first 10 customers in line.
The chosen few dart inside, arms waving triumphantly. War whoops ricochet around the showroom as they hold up their hard-won Jordan Retro XIIIs.

"We're the top 10, baby! Whoo!" shouts one.

Sales clerk Keri Childs of Mount Vernon cracks up.

"I was on the train this morning and I heard four guys talking about coming here," she says. "I didn't say anything, but I was like, 'You're gonna be too late.'"

Joseph Butler hands a box of size 9s back to a clerk, who sighs and heads back to the stockroom.

"Sorry, man!" calls Butler, looking a bit sheepish. "You've got to have that perfect box, and that one's all smashed up."

As he heads for the register, Butler pauses to pull out his cell and plug in the number of a guy named Tony, a sneakerhead behind him in line who seems to have connections.

"I've got to buy more sneakers off him," Butler mutters.

Meanwhile, Travis McGarrell is nowhere to be found. He's at Grand Central Terminal, waiting for the next train back to White Plains. But he's not headed home.

As soon as he saw the crowd at Niketown, he got on the phone and dispatched a friend to wait at the Galleria mall.

The Foot Action there is opening soon, and McGarrell is hoping to grab the Jordans there.

After all, even a rookie sneakerhead knows enough to have a Plan B.

kroger's over in madison heights

Preserved exterior

A kitchen clean interior

I was out and about yesterday and attempted to take a picture of the last (largely) unmodified 1970s-era Kroger 'Superstore' I knew of. I went to the site, in Madison Heights (north of Lynchburg) and realized that the store was now the latest area Kroger to close.

Unfettered and presented with an oppurtunity to photograph what was left of the old store, I shot a series of pictures to document what was and is there, one of which you see above.

The exterior was shabby but really clean and the interior was intact and looked like all that was missing was the food and customers.

This Kroger Superstore opened sometime in the mid '70s with an adjacent shopping center and a Kmart next door. It closed early in 2005, after losing its next door neighbors to a new Lowe's home improvement store. After thirty years of service, this store was pummeled by changing demographics, three Food Lion stores within a three mile radius and a Wal-Mart supercenter.

Multiplying Macy's

Regional store names bow to national branding

Associated Press

SEATTLE - Standing outside the Bon Marché department store in downtown Seattle, Marguerite Norbut lamented the day that workers replaced the sign she'd walked past for years with a new but familiar name: Macy's.

"I've seen it since I was a little girl!" said Norbut, 54, who grew up just across Puget Sound and has shopped at various "the Bon" stores in the Northwest her entire life.

But Norbut's daughter, Rachael, 22, heard a ring of urban sophistication, a reaction that would doubtless please the executives at Federated Department Stores Inc., Macy's parent company.

"I've always associated Macy's with California and the East Coast," the younger Norbut said.

For better or worse, it's the end of a retailing era for Seattle and other cities around the country.

Beginning Sunday, customers of the Bon, Rich's, Goldsmith's, Burdines and Lazarus will lose -- at least in name -- the regional department stores that have been around for more than a century. Federated is rechristening them under the national Macy's brand.

Longtime shoppers have had the opportunity to get used to the change -- Federated had already begun hyphenating "Macy's" onto the more familiar store names before deciding to get rid of the regional names altogether. Dan Edelman, chief executive of Macy's Northwest, said Federated decided to drop the hyphenations after customer surveys showed that most would not find the name change to be a negative.

The loss of regional branding is likely to continue with Cincinnati-based Federated's proposed merger with The May Department Stores Co., announced earlier this week. Spokeswoman Carol Sanger said the merger will likely mean that many of May's regional department stores also eventually become Macy's stores, although she said the company was still considering what to do with two of May's best-known brand names: Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field's.

But the company says the Hecht's name is all but certain to change to Macy's, meaning the Charlotte area stands to gain as many as three Macy's stores from the scheduled changeover. Hecht's has a recently remodeled store at SouthPark and another at Carolina Place in Pineville. Another Hecht's store is under construction at the Northlake Mall scheduled to open in September at Interstate 77 and W.T. Harris Boulevard.

Officials say it's too soon to give specifics on local change-over plans.

Analysts say the name changes are inevitable, because they save Federated money and give it the much-needed ability to market itself nationally and compete better against other national brand names ranging from The Gap Inc. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Along with the name change, the company plans a national television campaign, and it is touting other advantages such as easier national return policies and nationally branded store credit cards.

Still, some longtime shoppers think it's bad business to scrap a popular local brand name such as Rich's in Georgia.

"I don't know why they would want to drop the name. In Atlanta, it's as recognizable as Coca-Cola," said Elizabeth Brown, a retired schoolteacher from Marietta, Ga., who was shopping at a Rich's mall store in Kennesaw, a northern suburb of Atlanta.

The company insisted it is taking pains to keep some regional feeling despite the name change.

Edelman said the former Bon will have its own promotional calendar and flexibility in carrying clothing that fits regional weather. The Northwest stores also will still sell the well-loved Frango mints.

But Marshal Cohen, chief analyst with The NPD Group, argued that many of Federated's regional department stores have already lost much of their individual personalities after years of answering to a corporate parent, making the name changeover more of a formality.

"Was Burdines so different from a Macy's? No, not anymore," he said.

The name changes also left some reminiscing about the days when going to a department store was an event. Louetta Payne, 70, remembered dressing up for a trip to her local Rich's, and spending the better part of a day there.

"Those days will never come back, and I'm not saying they're better than now," she said as she browsed a clearance at a Lazarus-Macy's outside of Columbus, Ohio. "It's just that there was a pride to it. What you bought there was unique."

what are they trying to say?

Does anyone else think this is funny?

Friday, March 04, 2005

going green

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Nike is known for designing shoes so striking that footwear fans admiringly collect them by the dozens, and customers wait in line for hours to spend $150 or more on the latest release. But making hemp look hip? That's a whole new challenge as the Beaverton-based company grapples with going green.

In February, Nike started selling five models of casual shoes and boots that it says use environmentally sustainable materials and manufacturing processes. Called Nike Considered, the new line of shoes is part of the company's overall effort to research ways to reduce waste, eliminate toxic substances and otherwise lessen the environmental impact of the world's largest sneaker manufacturer.

Among other changes, the Nike Considered shoes are largely made with materials found within 200 miles of the factory, to cut down on fuel consumption in transporting them. The leather comes from a tannery that recycles wastewater to ensure that no toxins are released into the environment, and it is pigmented using vegetable dyes. Hemp and polyester are used to make the shoe's woven upper and shoelaces. The midsole is cut to lock into the outer sole, lessening the need for adhesives in constructing the shoe. The shoe's outer sole includes recycled rubber.

The shoes, with suggested retail prices of $65 for sandals to $110 for boots, aren't designed for heavy-duty hiking or sport, said Nate Tobecksen, a Nike spokesman.

They also don't have the sleek, stylized design that Nike is known for. With the woven upper and natural vegetable dye color of the leather, some of the shoes resemble a macrame moccasin or a woven wallaby that looks mistakenly imprinted with the Nike swoosh.

But as consumers flaunt their environmental consciousness with purchases that show their inner greenie -- such as the snout-nosed, gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius -- the unrefined look of the shoes may well be a selling point.

The shoes are finding retail space in places as dissimilar as the down-to-earth Recreational Equipment Inc. to the tony Barneys New York Co-op stores.

"The design of the shoe is definitely a conversation piece. The pattern and components used in the production of the shoes -- especially the Considered Boot -- are innovative," said Monique Soulet, an associate buyer for Barneys Men's Co-op shoes. "Our co-op customers are fashion-savvy and are willing to take chances on patterns that diverge from the beaten path."
But the environmental aspect is also part of its appeal, she said.

For outdoor-gear retailer REI, the shoes "have an aesthetic about them that's cool, and it tries to tell a little about the story just in the design of the shoes," said Mike Foley, spokesman for REI, which carries two models of the shoes in nine stores and on its Web site. "They look environmental."

It remains to be seen how popular they become with consumers, said Matt Powell, contributing editor for trade publication Sports Executive Weekly.

"I think it's great that Nike is trying to be a good corporate citizen," Powell said. "But the consumer who's going to appreciate this is relatively small."

Still, if there's not a commercial market for the shoes themselves, Nike probably will find ways to incorporate some of the environmentally friendly elements into other shoes, he said.

Suppliers said they are also seeing more interest, not only from Nike, but also from Adidas-Salomon AG, Reebok Ltd. and others in using more environmentally friendly materials, said Paul Pellati, a sales executive for Sadesa, a company in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that provides leather to shoe companies.

Using vegetable dyes and other natural pigments is more expensive, he said. But once enough consumers are willing to pay more, shoe companies will widely use such materials. Then, he said, "we're all off to the races."

The move not only fits in with Nike's environmental goals, but it also gives an image boost to an often-vilified corporation. Nike should be applauded and encouraged to do more, said Amanda Chehrezad, a spokeswoman for Co-op America, a nonprofit that urges businesses, consumers and investors to spend their money using socially and environmentally responsible practices.

"When larger companies do decide to take significant changes to create new products using environmental and social standards, we think it's a great step for them and we always like to see them do that," Chehrezad said. "We just encourage them to keep going and incorporating more efforts into their other practices and production areas," she said, such as ensuring Nike's contract factories are paying and treating workers fairly.

Nike is continuing to develop new models, the company's Tobecksen said. The company is working on more products to bring to market in June, with additional designs to roll out through spring 2006.

Meantime, while the current shoes aren't exactly the most mainstream of looks, Tobecksen said, "Stay tuned."

"The next generation," he said, "will have possibly more of a design that may be more in line with people's perceptions of a sneaker."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

this is me, then | 1988

This is your friendly neighborhood blogger in 1988, standing with my brother Allen in our favorite shirts. I wore a lot of madras shirts as a teenager. I was a dork.

what i do

Want to see some of what I've designed at work? Look below.

This house, in the 700 block of Jamison Avenue, SE, in Roanoke, was the prototype for two houses in the neighborhood erected by Southeast By Design, a collaboration between LMW. PC, Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation, the city of Roanoke and Virginia Tech. I refined for construction and was the CAD technician on the house, which was designed by a Virginia Tech 3rd year student architectural studio.

This house, at 728 Jamison Avenue, SE, in Roanoke, was the prototype for three houses in the neighborhood erected by Southeast By Design, a collaboration between LMW. PC, Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation, the city of Roanoke and Virginia Tech. Hunter Greene and I collaborated on the project, but I was the CAD technician and prepared most of the construction documents.

The expansive first floor living area of 728 Jamison Avenue. The sliding doors enter onto a 2 story sleeping porch, which is a common detail on houses in its Southeast Roanoke neighborhood.

House for house! :) The house on the right was based on the 720 Jamison prototype, but is located at 620 Jamison Avenue. The porch was reduced for budgetary reasons on this and other houses.

The Roanoke Health & Human Services facility on Williamson Road is the adaptive reuse of a former Sears Roebuck store as a central home for the city's health & welfare needs. I was the primary CAD technician, contributing 22 architectural sheets and coordinating the implementation of 60 engineering sheets into the drawing set.

The rear facade of the same facility.

The third-floor main interior corridor and lobby of the Roanoke Health & Human Services Facility. Note the lighted coves, lighting layout and alumium and glass storefront design; those were all me. :)

Here's what the former Sears Roebuck store looked like in a rendering for their 1957 ad during Roanoke's 75th anniversary celebration. The store opened that year. Sears was part of Searstown, which consisted of a combination Kroger and Sears store, with an adjacent Rose's variety store and Peoples Drug (later Revco). Kroger left in the '70s, Roses and Revco in the early '80s, and finally Sears in 1985, moving to Valley View Mall. After Sears moved, the store was briefly a small enclosed mall, but now there is only retail on the bottom floor.

The Human Services portion of the building has been occupied for over a year, but the Health Department was unable to move into its section due to budget problems. That situation was recently resolved:

Health department to get healthier, roomier location

I did a facade rendering on this existing historic building in CAD based on a few basic measurements (taken by an associate) and several photographs, without actually visiting the site. I thought it came out well, and once I visited the building to verify what I did, very little had to be changed.


By TOM SYKES, New York Post

PEOPLE fighting over rare merchandise at a tiny downtown boutique is par for the course in Manhattan. But when those people are grown men, and they've spent all night waiting in freezing temps to buy a pair of sneakers - as they did last week for limited edition, $300 Nike Pigeon Dunks at an Orchard Street shop - they make the most debt-ridden fashionista look sane.

"Guys go crazy for sneakers in the way that girls go crazy for Manolo Blahniks," says Jimmy Jellinek, editor in chief of Complex magazine, a sneaker collector's bible.

Even New York sneakerheads like Carlo Castro were shocked by the frenzy at the Orchard Street shop, where a fight broke out but no arrests were made.

"It was kind of unbelievable to me that people would wait in line that long. But they see Pharrell [Williams] wearing these dunks, so they want them," explained Castro, referring to the hip-hop superstar. (Williams is also co-owner of his own sneaker/clothing shop in SoHo, called A Bathing Ape.)

The sneaker-fetish scene revolves around the twin poles of eBay and the city's ultra-exclusive boutiques - some have no signs, others no storefronts - where staff and customers talk about sneakers with the rapture of wine connoisseurs discussing great vintages.

Rather than relying on big-bucks advertising, word of mouth is king at the city's specialty sneaker temples - mostly clustered on the Lower East Side.

At stake are bragging rights to be the first, or only, person in your neighborhood to have that exclusive shoe - or, alternately, the chance to make some serious money by reselling it on eBay.

The most sought-after sneakers, like the Nike Pigeon Dunk, are produced in limited editions.

"Basically, this is the same formula of limited releases that the sneaker companies were using in the '80s," says Dave Ortiz, the owner of tiny sneaker emporium Dave's Quality Meat.

"Everyone goes bananas because they can get one pair of 500," Ortiz says. "Smaller boutiques like us fuel the fire, because the kids who shop here are the 'influencers' - they inspire the broader masses. They get bragging rights from that unique pair of sneakers."

The most sought-after models are limited-edition collaborations between street artists and the big companies.

"It's all about heritage," says Jellinek, noting that by purchasing a pair of Nikes with "built-in nostalgia" the wearer also stakes a claim "to all Nikes that came before it - all the influences of hip-hop and skating - that go into that sneaker's DNA."

It's also all about knowing where half these stores are even located - and how to get in.

The Alife (pronounced A-life) Rivington Club is one of the city's premier sneaker shops, even though it's totally unmarked and you have to be buzzed in through a security door.

Single sneakers are displayed in mahogany shelving, with the more expensive, limited-edition items - which can top out at $400 - locked away in glass cases like museum exhibits.

Nom de Guerre, whose customers include Giorgio Armani, is a sprawling subterranean store accessible via a cellar staircase and marked only by a small plaque on the pavement. The most expensive pair of sneaks on sale are an $800 pair of Slim Shady Nikes.

"Fifty percent of customers are genuine collectors," said manager Angelo Baque, 26. "Fifty percent are buying to resell on eBay - these kids can turn $300 into $1,500 overnight. When I was 16, I made $4.25 an hour at McDonald's."

The other day, David Willson, 20, who drops more than $100 on sneakers "a couple of times a year," was browsing.

"I like to get a few pair of good sneakers for going out every year," he said.

"For school or everyday, I am like everyone else," he said. "I just buy cheap ones from Century 21."

Spoken like a true Blahnik-loving fashionista.

something to think about

I love the sneakers I buy and I'm not stopping anytime soon, but sometimes you have to think about something other than the 'new-shoe smell' and consider the human consequences of marketing. Then there's the other side of the coin: the connection to something greater than the rubber and lesther on your feet. Here's some food for thought:

Selling Sneakers By Violating Young Minds
By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page B01

More than two dozen young men had been waiting for nearly an hour when the Downtown Locker Room shoe store in Temple Hills opened at 10 a.m. Sunday.

They were hoping to be among the lucky ones who would walk away with a pair of Michael Jordan's latest release -- or "limited" rerelease in this case: the Nike Jordan Retro 13 "Altitude," a basketball shoe that first came out in the early 1990s.

This time, the black and green sneaker was selling for $160 a pair, $10 more than the originals. The Downtown Locker Room had 60 pairs in stock and sold out within an hour.

And so it went at select shoe stores throughout the Washington area over the weekend. At a Downtown Locker Room in Waldorf, customers who called ahead were advised to show up at least an hour before the store opened at 7 a.m. Sunday. The line began forming in the cold of dawn, and before the sun could break through the morning fog, all the Retro 13s were gone.

Told that the sneaker he had just bought for $160 probably cost $2 to make, a young man who works as a cook at a fast-food restaurant told me gleefully: "I don't care if they cost a penny to make. These are Jordans." Those who overheard him nodded in agreement.

For those who missed out, there is always the Internet, where the Retro 13 has been selling for as much as $300 a pair.

During the past two decades -- ever since Jordan signed as the pitchman for Nike in 1985 -- the craze over Jordan shoes has been much discussed. This is especially true in black urban areas where the popularity of Jordan shoes and other brand-name apparel has been associated with thefts, armed robberies and even homicides.

The public could stand to know more about the marketing strategies that fuel these desires -- and the socioeconomic implications of having consumers under a spell.

On March 11, scholars from throughout the country will gather at Howard University to share their knowledge on the subject at a three-day conference, "Consuming Kids: How Marketing Undermines Children's Health, Values & Behavior."

Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, will moderate panel discussions on such subjects as the sexualization of childhood in advertisements, the economics of obesity and the commercial branding of children in public schools.

"Even parents who are trying to do the right thing must realize what they're up against," said Velma LaPoint, a professor of child development at Howard and one of the conference organizers. "They may be trying to promote positive child development, but at the same time, you've got a marketing industry trying to hire people like me to tell them what a child's vulnerabilities might be at certain ages. In very scientific ways, they set out to capitalize on a child's need to belong and to create in them a feeling that they must always have something new to be accepted."

Sonny Vaccaro, a Nike executive in 1985 and the man credited with bringing Jordan onboard, dismissed talk of marketing boogiemen and said classic Jordan shoes, like old Frank Sinatra recordings, help keep a glorious past alive.

"What we saw happen with Michael, and carry on to other individuals, was a legacy and a myth wrapped up into one thing: a shoe," said Vaccaro, now a consultant to Reebok. "It was incomprehensible, and it grew to mystical proportions. What we are seeing now is a new generation wanting to be a part of that. All humans want to be connected to greatness and glory, and now people are connecting with that, and each other, through the shoe."

When I noted that $160 seemed a lot to pay for such a connection, Vaccaro replied: "And they'll pay $260 and $270 when it's time to pay that number."

No doubt the human need for connection is strong. Scholars at the conference on marketing to kids would do well to keep that need in mind and to consider ways to satisfy it that last longer than a shoe.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

birmingham rewound

Birmingham Rewound, 3/2/2005

I know that I'm a historian by nature, and it's nice to know there are others like me. One such person is Russell Wells, who you may remember from the Eastwood Mall tribute site I posted a few weeks ago.

My new friend J.T. Legg (webmaster of the Rich's tribute site posted this week) told me about Russell's new site Birmingham Rewound. On it, he features some fading memories of postwar Birmingham, Alabama, through personal rememberances, old pictures and vintage audio.

Though I'm not a resident or native of Birmingham (you'll have to hit up my friend Tim Anson for the former), I found the content of Birmingham Rewound facinating and fun. You might, too, especially if you like what you see here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

song of the day | march 1, 2005

Nice & Slow - Redhead Kingpin and the F.B.I. Listen

snow day

As I write, I’m in the middle of eight inches of snow which came down overnight Sunday night. It’s the first real snowfall we’ve had this winter and I’ve been enjoying it, if for no other reason than pulling out the cool new parka I bought at the end of the season last year ;) I couldn’t go anywhere, so I got to spend the day in yesterday, and have spent most of it on the phone with several of my friends, who invariably all call on the same day. No biggie though, I like the company.

I was hoping to hear from some of the people I interviewed with today, but the snow through things off a bit. Maybe tomorrow. The guy I interviewed with at Virginia Furniture Market was in the Roanoke paper Monday reviewing Oscar dresses. You read that right. What the hell??!! Well, to each his own, I guess.

I do have a good group of friends and have met a couple more from the message boards and blogs I participate in. One of the people I met contributes on the Men’s Health board and lives in Charlotte. He’s a youth minister and seems to be into clothes and otherwise a fairly normal person. I met another couple of people on UrbanPlanet that are big retail and planning freaks like me. One guy from Atlanta runs a Rich’s department store tribute site. Another guy studies the malls of the Carolinas like me. Another fellow runs an Ames discount store tribute site and I sent him some information that he posted on his website about the old Ames around here. It’s always nice to meet new people, especially when they make you feel more normal.

Over the weekend Mom and I loaded the new shelves at the club with dishes. I counted over 340 dinner plates alone, and that’s only maybe half of what we have, and even that doesn’t count all the other plates, bowls, flatware, and glasses. Needless to say, it was a long day on Sunday. To update some stuff from earlier, both the shelves and new floor I built and put down are doing okay. Not a bad try for a guy with all thumbs like me.

I guess you’ve heard by now about the May-Federated department store merger. What I gather is that our local Hecht’s will become Macy’s, maybe next year. I’m not overwhelmed by that prospect, but I know it’s going to lead to a little more upscale, modern department store over time. Maybe having a Macy’s will grease the wheels a little on some of the national name stores we don’t have yet.

A rendering of Boscov's in Albany, NY ( albany.html)

One store we don’t have is Boscov’s. Boscov’s is comparable to Belk and Hecht’s, with a generous dose of Sears thrown in. It’s a great store; not trendy but not lame either. Most of the stores are around 200,000 square feet, about the size of a typical Super Wal-Mart, which is why it’s hard for them to find a good spot in the Roanoke Valley, where they’re actively looking according to a real estate website I found. I’ve been to a couple in Pennsylvania. And I’m looking forward to the new store in Danville at Piedmont Mall coming in 2006. Maybe we’ll luck up and get one at Tanglewood or Valley View.

Speaking of malls, I ended up going to Lynchburg twice over the weekend. Once with Mom and Dad, once with my friend Kevin. They have a new dollar store in River Ridge Mall that carries a little bit of everything, even hair pieces for $1.00. So if you need some fake hair cheap, I know who can hook you upJ.

On a classier note, I found the Harbor Inn seafood restaurant in Lynchburg to be very classy and a good deal to boot. The best way to find a good restaurant I’ve found is to follow the crowd of fat happy people and go where they go. That usually works, and it certainly worked this time.

That's my 2 cents for the day :)

Fat Joe, Nas, Others Salute Jam Master Jay And His Adidas

Fund-raiser gala held to benefit late DJ's charity foundation.

NEW YORK — Two hip-hop icons were honored Friday night at the Skylight club: Jam Master Jay and Adidas.Nas, Fat Joe, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Q-Tip, Public Enemy and DMC were among those on hand for a fund-raiser gala that celebrated the Jam Master himself as well as the 35th anniversary of his group's favorite kicks.

"Jam Master Jay is my man, and Queens is my borough," Nas said of the late DJ, who was slain in his Queens studio in October 2002 (see "Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC DJ, Killed In Shooting").

"It's important we come out and show love to the foundation and the community work that's being put together through Adidas and the Jam Master Jay Foundation."

"We came together for this to really pay homage," said Layzie Bone, flanked by his entire group.

"It really means a lot to us because we came up on Run-DMC. We really loved these guys, and Jam Master Jay taught us some things and talked to us. It really meant a lot to be here."

"Run-DMC were one of the most powerful impacts on my childhood, 'cause they took a culture and made it worldwide and showed me the possibilities of something I liked," offered video director Dave Meyers (Jay-Z, Kelly Clarkson). "They were some cool guys doing cool sh--. I was a kid who was very influenced by their creative flow and the choices they made."

Many of the artists noted that not only were they influenced by the music of Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell), but as they became prominent in the industry, Jay reached out to them personally.

"Jam Master was a mentor, an idol to me, a good brother," Fat Joe remembered. "Every time I seen him, he was like, 'Yo, Joe, you gotta get outta the Bronx. You gotta get out of New York. You gotta sell some records somewhere else. There's a whole world out there, go sell some records somewhere else.' "

"Everyone coming to support just shows me all the love and effect Jason had," Jam Master Jay's widow, Terri Corley-Mizell, said. "It's about honoring his legacy and life. Everyone here had love for Jason, which means a lot for me."

The Adidas sneaker was shown love as well: 35 types of special Adidas were on display, including the Missy Elliott shoe, the Bad Boy shoe, the Roc-A-Fella 10th anniversary sneaker and a Disney sneaker with a picture of Goofy on it.

"Adidas gotta show love," DMC said. "We took that shell-toe sneaker around the world. We stepped onstage at Live Aid, the people gave and the poor got paid. Adidas is more than a sneaker on my feet, it represents what hip-hop is about."

Some of the proceeds from the event went to the Jam Master Jay Foundation, which supports music programs in inner-city schools. DMC, Bone Thugs and Public Enemy were among the performers who hit the stage at the shindig.

Museum shows 200 pairs of sneakers

LOS ANGELES (AP) --A traveling exhibit of nearly 200 pairs of sneakers has been created by a 45-year-old Los Angeles County social worker.

James Moore, who calls his exhibit the California Sneaker Museum, brought it Saturday to the Ahmanson Senior Citizen Center in Exposition Park.

The exhibit features pie charts with athletic footwear market shares, vintage advertisements and is an ode to the evolution of sneakers.

"(Kids) spend a lot of money on sneakers," Moore said. "There's a history to sneakers, and I want kids and parents to see how this evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry."

The collection includes a 1930s pair of Red Ball basketball sneakers, 1960s sneakers made by Goodyear and BF Goodrich and a pair of silver Adidas KobeTwo sneakers.

"It's gone from an 1800s rubber-and-cloth material Plimsoll to now there's a specialty shoe for every sport," Moore said.

Moore said he buys most of his sneakers on the Internet, but also scours thrift stores and buys from collectors.

His most expensive purchase so far? A $200 pair of Nike Air Jordan XVIIs, which came in a foam-lined cherry red carrying case.

New Balance's latest ads celebrate the (older) amateur

By Naomi Aoki, Boston Globe Staff February 28, 2005

Are you in it for love or money?

In a national ad campaign that begins this week, the Boston sneaker maker New Balance aims to set itself apart from the Nikes and the Reeboks of the world.

The idea behind the campaign: If you want to wear the same shoes as NBA stars Allen Iverson or LeBron James wear, buy Reeboks or Nikes. But if you're in it for the pure love of the sport, New Balance is the shoe for you.

'' 'For Love or Money' felt so natural to us because it was something that only New Balance can stand in front of," said Paul Heffernan, executive vice president of global marketing at New Balance. ''It's all about everyday athletes playing for the love of the game."

Well, Reebok International Ltd. and Nike Inc. might ask, ''What's so different about that?" After all, they're also courting the everyday athlete. But their ads are slick and filled with sports and entertainment celebrities. This month, Canton-based Reebok introduced its ''i am what i am" campaign, featuring actress Lucy Liu and tennis player Andy Roddick.

In its new campaign, New Balance features amateur athletes and high-school sports teams. As opposed to ads featuring pro athletes, these ads are unconcerned with how polished the athletes appear or whether their foot placement is just right.

In addition to four 30-second TV spots, the campaign also includes print, billboard, and online ads that pose a series of questions about values in sports today:

''Can a losing coach still be a good coach?"

''Is fighting in sports ever justified?"

''Which teaches a player more, winning or losing?"

Tobe Berkovitz, an advertising professor and associate dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, gives New Balance's strategy a thumbs up. New Balance's customer isn't a teenager -- an all-important demographic in the youth-oriented sneaker business. It's the 21- to 55-year-old who's working toward a personal goal, rather than working to impress someone.

The $1.4 billion company has to defend that turf against far larger rivals with far bigger marketing budgets. The company didn't say how much it is spending on the ad campaign, but said it is spending significantly more on advertising than it did last year.

Berkovitz predicts the ''For Love or Money" campaign will reinforce its customers' brand loyalty and potentially expand their appeal among people who are moving into the New Balance niche.

''If they can grow by just 3 or 5 percent, or even if they can just keep the other guys from eating them alive, that's a win for New Balance," he said.

Rich's | the tribute

J.T. Legg's Rich's tribute site, 3/1/05.

J.T. Legg, a self decribed 'retail geek' like me had this to say about his tribute website to the soon to be departed iconic Atlanta, Georgia department store chain Rich's:

"I'm the webmaster of the new Rich's Tribute site, which will have pictures inside and out of my all-time favorite department store that Federated just canned out of shear stupidity. I grew up my whole life with Rich's, making frequent annual visits tothe Town Center Mall store all 19 years of its existance."

"I did manage to snag pics of every single Rich's store in the entire Atlanta area, but it did take a TON of work and time to do it. I also had two run-ins with mall security that were not pleased that I had such a penchant for Atlanta's classic store."

That's love y'all. You should check out his Rich's tribute soon

Monday, February 28, 2005

the jordan issue!

Anyone even remotely interested in the Air Jordan sneaker series should make an effort to pick up the latest edition of Sole Collector magazine.

In honor of the release of the Air Jordan XX, the magazine has collected knowledge and accolades form a wide variety of sneakerheads, basketball fans, and historians to create the best Air Jordan retrospective anyone can buy for only $7.99.

If you like 'em, worn, unworn, pristine, trashed, loved, lauded, or anything in between, you will find something to like about this Sole Collector special edition.

lyrics | Cha Cha Cha by MC Lyte

The very round-sounding bassline brings back memories of riding through Friendly Center in Greensboro around Christmas in 1989 with my family shooping. I think we stopped at Woolworth's. From the album Eyes On This.

[Kick this one here for me and my DJ]

You can cha-cha-cha to this Mardis Gras
I'm the dopest female that you've heard thus far
And I do get better, the voice gets wetter
Nobody gets hurt (as long as you let her)
Do my thing with an '89 swing
The dopeness I write, I guarantee delight
To the hip-hop maniac, the Uptown brainiac
In full effect, MC Lyte is back
And better than before as if that was possible
My competition, you'll find them in the hospital
Visiting time, I think it's on a Sunday
But notice they only get one day to shine
The rest of the week is mine
And I'll blind you with the science that the others have yet to find
So come along and I'll lead you the right way
Just clap your hands to the words I say, come on...

[Kick this one here for me and my DJ]

I've got the power to spread out and devour
At the same time I'll eat you up with a rhyme
But I'll let you slide cuz you accidently hopped on the wrong side
Now come on, that's suicide
Hypothetically speaking
Ok, let's say you didn't know what you were doing
You're new in town, and you're looking around
For another name to ruin, and it's me that you're pursuing?
Well well well, I'll be damned
I might as well tell you who I am
I am the capital L-Y-T-E
And it's shocking I'm the one you're mocking
Oh yes, I've been watching you watching me
And like the fat on your back it's plain to see
That you're a wannabe, but you can't be what you're not
So you better start living with what you got

[Kick this one here for me and my DJ]

Yeah, DJ K-Rock when you hear a scratch
Now it's time to kick a rhyme out the batch
And you're the receiver eager as a beaver
Time to convert the non-believer
That I'm a roadrunner leaving you in the dust
I can adjust to the times and at times I might just get quicker
Than the ticker of your pacemaker
More tender than a roni but harder than a jawbreaker
So don't ever second guess me
And if you're wondering who could the best be
Think a second and recollect the worst whipping you ever had yet
And I'll bet that I did it
My fingerprints are still on you
How many times I gotta warn you
About the light? It'll blind your sight
But the rhythm will still guide you through the night

[Kick this tip...Kick this one here for me and my DJ]

Federated Agrees to Buy May for About $11 Billion, Executives Say


Federated Department Stores, which owns Macy's and Bloomingdale's, agreed yesterday to buy May Department Stores, which owns Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field's, for about $11 billion, executives involved in the negotiations said.

The deal, which is expected to be announced today, would transform Federated, already the nation's largest department store company, into a retailing giant with more than 1,000 stores and $30 billion in sales.

As big as the combined company will be, however, its sales will be far exceeded by the discount retailing juggernaut Wal-Mart, which had sales of $262 billion last year.

The transaction is the latest retail merger in an industry that is rapidly being redrawn as the traditional department store faces mounting pressure from rivals on all sides: discount giants like Wal-Mart and Target, specialty stores like Gap and Victoria's Secret and upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

Late last year, two other famous names in retailing, Kmart and Sears, Roebuck & Company, agreed to merge in an $11 billion deal.

Some retail and fashion executives lament that such consolidation has left the industry devoid of department stores that were once landmarks, like Gimbels in New York, Bullock's in Los Angeles and Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.

Lost too, the executives suggest, are the industry's personal touches, like its "merchant princes" - buyers for department stores who traveled the country spotting the Ralph Laurens and Calvin Kleins before they were household names. And even more retail mergers may be in the making.

Wall Street analysts and fashion industry specialists have been buzzing in recent weeks about the deal prospects for Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Fortunoff and Barney's were sold last year.

Federated's deal with May is a long time in the making. Two and half years ago, the companies held talks but failed to reach an agreement after a dispute over which executives would run the combined company. Last month, May's chief executive, Gene Kahn, was ousted by the company's board, which created an opening for Federated to resume negotiations.

The companies have been negotiating off and on for several weeks, the executives said, and a deal was approved by both company boards over the weekend.

The deal is subject to approval by regulators, who are not expected to block the transaction, but may press Federated to sell stores in cities in which it has a stronghold.

Analysts predict that Federated, based in Cincinnati, will probably close a significant number of May's underperforming locations, perhaps as many as 200 stores. Federated may also give the Macy's name to many of May's regional stores, discarding the familiar names that have been known to generations of shoppers in those areas. Besides Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field's, which are likely to go untouched, May owns Famous-Barr, Filene's, Foley's, Hecht's, Kaufmann's, Meier & Frank, Robinsons-May and Strawbridge's, among others.

"Together, using the Macy's name, a powerful national franchise could be established," Bernard Sosnick, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Company recently wrote in a note to investors. "This, we believe, is the compelling force behind a possible merger between the two, along with cost reductions due to the elimination of redundant activities."

Thousands of layoffs are also expected, although other merchants, including Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom, are reportedly already lining up to take over some of the locations that Federated may jettison.

May, which is based in St. Louis, is expected to keep some offices there, but there will be layoffs.

Spokeswomen for Federated and May declined to comment.

Some analysts worry that the deal is marrying two companies facing critical challenges. "There may be back-office synergies," Joshua R. Goldberg, a managing director of Mercantile Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Manhattan, said last week. "But will a combined May-Federated be more attractive and effective with customers than each is now?"

Still, Terry J. Lundgren, Federated's chief executive, has received high marks for being a disciplined executive, refusing to overpay for acquisitions. When Marshall Field's came up for sale in the last year, he walked away and let May buy it when he thought the asking price had become too high.

And in his negotiations to buy May, Mr. Lundgren was similarly tough. While May's board had been holding out for more than $40 a share, he was able to talk them into selling for $35.50 a share in cash and stock, executives involved the process said. Shares of May closed on Friday at $35.35. When Mr. Kahn stepped down, before speculation began swirling about talks with Federated, May's shares traded at $27.84. Federated is also expected to assume about $6 billion in debt. May was in a tough position, analysts say, but there no other natural buyers.

Same-store sales for Federated grew by 2.6% last year. May, which has not had sales growth for four years, had a same-store sales loss of 2.4% last year.

In acquiring May, Federated will have to decide how May's 501 department stores and more than 700 specialty stores like the David's Bridal chain will fit into the merged company.

The new company is expected to wring hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, which Mr. Lundgren is expected to outline today.

Mr. Lundgren has been praised marks for imposing an innovative streamlining on his 458-store chain since he took over the company two years ago.

He is pushing to increase the amount of creative private-label fashions, a way to allow stores to differentiate themselves from other chains and discount stores.

The Federated consolidation began in 1929, with the combination of Abraham & Straus; Filene's; F&R Lazarus of Columbus, Ohio; and Bloomingdale's of New York City. Federated, in its fact book, said it created the idea of "pay as you can" credit policies, as well as grouping clothes by size as opposed to color, brand or price.By 1964, Federated had combined 14 store chains. In the 1970's, it began developing shopping centers, bought Rich's and built a new headquarters in Cincinnati.

But the 1980's brought trouble: Robert Campeau, a Canadian real estate developer, in a highly leveraged takeover, laid claim to Federated in 1988 and two years later, the company went bankrupt, emerging in 1992 as a public company. Two years later, it bought Macy's, a triumph, and Fingerhut, a dismal and very public failure.

The year after Mr. Lundgren became chief executive in 2002, he began adding the Macy's name to its regional store chains, creating Bon-Macy's, Burdines-Macy's, Goldsmith's-Macy's, Lazarus-Macy's and Rich's-Macy's.

The next year, after what he said was extensive customer polling, he decided to remove the old names, and Federated began concentrating on its two marquee names: Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

Besides Marshall Field's in Chicago, which Federated has coveted for years, the company will acquire valuable Robinson-May locations on the West Coast and Foley's locations in Texas. Lord & Taylor, particularly, will be closely watched. Jane Elfers, its chief executive, is in the midst of a turnaround, and has closeda third of her stores to concentrate on sales and profits at the rest.

Ms. Elfers has been mentioned as a successor to Mr. Kahn, the recently ousted May chief executive.

Yet by the weekend, new speculation surfaced that Nordstrom had put in a request for Lord & Taylor's grand Fifth Avenue flagship.

To pay for the acquisition, most retailing specialists say Mr. Lundgren will sell one or both of the company's credit card operations. Over the weekend, they also were speculating that Mr. Lundgren was likely to shed David's Bridal, the successful wedding apparel chain. May also owns After Hours Formalwear and Priscilla's of Boston, an upscale wedding gown retailer.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sneakers may have started in Colchester

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A now-defunct Colchester factory may have gotten the very first jump on basketball shoes.

Gary L. Pifer, a California vintage clothes collector, said he owns a pair of 113-yer-old handmade sneakers manufactured by the Colchester Rubber Co.

"It actually changes basketball and sneaker history," Pifer told The Hartford Courant. "Colchester was always No. 1, but no one knew it."

Pifer, 48, of Oceanside, Calif., said he found the rubber-soled shoes in the closet of a house being emptied for an estate sale in San Diego County in December and paid $2 for them. The shoes carried the insignia of the Colchester Rubber Co.

After researching the company on the Internet, Pifer said he learned Colchester Rubber closed in 1892, one year after James Naismith invented basketball. The first recognized pair of high-tops, made by Converse, debuted 25 years later, Pifer said.

"It didn't compute," Pifer said. "(Converse) sneakers came about 1917. They have always been the first basketball design ever."

A phone message was left Saturday for a representative of the North Andover, Mass.-based Converse Inc.

The Colchester shoe has pivot points and rubber soles consistent with later designs.

Pifer suspects that the Colchester Rubber Co. may have created the shoes as a prototype for Naismith, who invented basketball in Springfield, Mass., about 50 miles north of Colchester.

Matt Zeysing, historian for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, said that scenario is possible.

"Certainly, Naismith at that time was approached by different companies," Zeysing said. "It was the companies doing stuff with rubber that came up with the concept for basketball shoes."

Zeysing said that before Converse, the Spalding Co. had introduced a shoe in 1896 that could be used for basketball. But the Colchester Rubber Co. shoe would predate them all, he said.

Pifer said whoever owned his $2 sneakers took care of them, storing them carefully in a Victorian-era chest along with other belongings. He doesn't plan to resell them.

"They are priceless," he said.

Pifer wants to dedicate the shoe to Harry Lew, the first black pro basketball player, who played with a New England league in 1902.

Pifer said he might donate the sneakers to the Basketball Hall of Fame after he has copies made. He'd like one of the first pairs to go to Colchester.

"I think we would definitely take advantage of it and be very proud of it," First Selectman Jenny Contois said. "What a wonderful thing we would be known for."

country grammar

Toby Keith

I like all kinds of music. A lot of people tend to make statements like that to make it sound like they’re agreeable people, only to later admit that they don’t listen to such and such because of whatever. But I really like a little bit of everything.

It comes from growing up in a television culture, where almost any style of music is featured, whether seriously or as a joke, in shows, commercials documentaries, what have you. Before the era of market segmentation, broadcast music was even freer than it is now. Luckily the internet has taken up some of the slack, meaning that two random people from two random cultures can be into the same music and download it from the same place.

The closest I come to making myself a hypocrite on the love of all music is when it comes to country; specifically modern country. My dad is into country, and sometimes as I ride home from work I get to hear it on his car stereo. Maybe it’s the stress of work, or being tired otherwise at the end of the day, but modern country comes the closest as a genre to pissing me off as I listen to it.

Despite some real talent like Tim McGraw, Brad Pasley, George Strait, Martina McBride, and LeAnn Rimes, the majority of the acts favored by country radio are simply variations on the same theme. Poverty is celebrated, so is the past. The message is seemingly always ‘Nothing is right in this world except the rural lifestyle and even that’s not as good as the old days,’ and the message only stops for commercials twice an hour.

As if the sentimentalism and sepia-colored past weren’t enough, then there’s the attempt at patriotism. I love America, and I don’t want to live anywhere else, but many country artists’ worldviews are so simplistic that cartoons offer more depth. You can be proud of who you are and where you live without looking at everyone else who isn’t you as heathens, but you won’t get on country radio thinking that broadly.

In the old days, the great artists like Hank Williams, Sr., Eddy Arnold, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and Tammy Wynette could talk about the world abroad and their lives and not seem so self-righteous. Love was cool, but true love was fantastic. Being cool and innovative was a goal, but they weren’t so caught up in being cool and innovative that they consciously chased it.

The old-school country acts were singing their convictions and joys and sorrows and it was real. The last guy to truly do that in modern country was Garth Brooks, and marital troubles and an edgy, but poor selling, alter ego named Chris Gaines forced him to go home for a few years.

The new guys talk about life and love and getting laid, but it’s just not real, despite the conversational tone of most lyrics. The language isn’t poetic anymore, and the music is largely an afterthought. The idea that someone is talking to you through the radio in simple language and catchy hooks seems neat at first, but too much unfiltered, uncreative commentary of modern life is boring and trite. They sound like your neighbors or cousins, but soon you realize your neighbors and cousins would sure sound boring set to fiddles and unfunky backbeats.

Then again, maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because country artists don’t generally write their own music these days. Maybe big radio stamps out other more interesting messages form more interesting artists. Maybe other genres of music are just as guilty of their own sins. Whatever it is, it grates on my nerves and I can’t help but dislike it.

Okay, so I’m a hypocrite, too ;)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

this is me, then | 1991

Look at the light-dark contrast on this picture! This is your friendly neighborhood blogger in 1991, in a bad picture from high school.

attention kmart shoppers

Kmart's a place that doesn't get much love from shoppers thses days, and considering some of their goofiness and unresponsiveness over the years, it's understandable.

Still it's an American icon. It was an aspirational, state of the art store in the '60s, a staple of shopping (and late night talk show jokes) in the '70s and '80s, and an innovator in the '90s, along with being one of the biggest retail turnarounds of the 2000s. Who'd have thought they'd have bought Sears?

Here's a couple of pictures from Kmart's past:

A Kmart label from the '70s, found on a vinyl record at the Goodwill.

A Kmart-anchored shopping center in Lima, Ohio with a rarely photographed Kmart Foods adjacent. Many of the first Kmarts had seperate Kresge-operated supermarkets next door to their discount stores, but the practice was discontinued in the mid-to late '70s. (Ohio Grocery)

Another Kmart with Kmart Foods attached, from the mid-'60s. Fort Saginaw Mall, Saginaw, Michigan (Lost Michigan)

Kmart, Bay City, Michigan (Lost Michigan)

Kmart at Crossroads Mall in Roanoke, Virginia. It's located in a former Woolco store.

Die-hard sneaker fans still like Mike's Nikes

Junior Coloma, right, and Blake Ganac wait at the head of the line at Seattle's Niketown store for the $150 Air Jordan Retro 13 shoes to go on sale. (February 25, 2005, Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer)


Blake Ganac will have waited outside of downtown Seattle's Niketown for more than 57 hours by the time he gets his hands on a pair of Nike's latest pair of sneakers -- the limited-edition Air Jordan Retro 13.

Rainier Valley resident Ganac, who already has more than a hundred pairs of sneakers, is at the front of a line of young men slumped in foldable nylon chairs along the sidewalk, languidly stretching out their Nike-clad feet.

"I am trying to buy all the shoes I couldn't afford when I was a kid," said Ganac, 18, a hip-hop artist who goes by the MC name Newsense. "It's a way for me to get my childhood back."

Very clever, Nike: Recycle old designs, this one a 1998 number that is now black and green. Send only 60 pairs of the $150 shoes to Seattle's Niketown, and scatter a few pairs in other shops. Watch the buzz grow before they go on sale at midnight tonight.

The Oregon-based shoe giant, which releases a couple of Air Jordan Retro styles per year, faced a lot of heat in the 1990s for marketing shoes that were too expensive for many teens.

The original Air Jordans were so coveted that some people were mugged for their footwear. Now, those shoes are being remarketed to the public as retro, hitting the market in extremely small quantities.

Representatives from Nike and its Jordan brand division were unavailable for comment and declined to say how many of the shoes had been sent to retailers nationwide.

"Nike has always created that iconic image with Michael Jordan," said Jennifer Black, of Jennifer Black & Associates, an analyst who covered Nike for 15 years. "They are trying to create a buzz around their brand."

It works -- Jahi Rankin, a 16-year-old junior on break from Renton High School, actually got his mom to wait overnight with him Wednesday.

Rankin owns 120 pairs of shoes, which he refuses to wear more than three times each ("creases make your shoes look bad"), and is the beneficiary of a unique deal with his mom: shoes for good grades.

Rankin's shoes, all in mint condition, could be worth a fortune on eBay, where the Retro 13's are already being auctioned for up to double their retail value of $150.

Asked by a reporter if Rankin and Ganac would consider selling their collections on the online auction site, the answer was a resounding no.

"I have to keep them -- they are so rare," said Rankin, who sounded vexed by the very idea of turning a profit with his beloved shoes.

"I'm not in this for the money. I'm in it for the love," agreed Ganac. "They don't look like much, but they are beautiful to us."

let's go krogering!

A vanishing icon of grocery retailing: the classic four-sided Kroger sign tower, popular during the '70s and '80s. Photo taken by your friendly neighborhood blogger in Hollins, Virginia, Friday, February 25, 2005.

Here is the Roanoke Valley's newest Kroger, opened February 22, 2005 at Cave Spring Corners in southwest Roanoke County. It replaced a 30 year old store in the same shopping center and was built on the site of a former Ames discount store. (Eric Brady/The Roanoke Times)

Here's a little goofy music to take you where I am when I see these signs and the Kroger stores of the era: Can You Feel It by The Jacksons

Friday, February 25, 2005

May and Federated Talks Resume

Discussions for a $10 billion buyout of May Department Stores from rival Federated Department Stores are getting closer to reality, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

The merger is a topic of much discussion in the apparel arena. One analyst pointed to the possibility of a good-better-best approach for Federated, if it goes through with the acquisition. According to Wendy Liebmann, WSL Strategic Retail, the new Federated could operate with Macy's as good, Bloomingdale's as better, and Marshall Field's as best.

"The 'best' tier would potentially give the corporation a better chance of picking up all those high spending 'affluents' that are now driving much of the U.S. department store business," said Liebmann. "Whether this scenario is viable depends on a number of factors, the most critical of which is whether Marshall Fields is the brand to achieve national 'best' status."

If the shoe fits, don't stop looking

Shoe sale

By Matt Sussman
February 23, 2005

Shoes -- they separate us from the barefoot. Since the inception of the shoe, there has been one celebrated event by women.

Shoe sales.

The very phrase "shoe sale" invokes a feeling of thrill among all women. It ranks right up there with "fat free cheesecake" and "Stay tuned for an all new 'Desperate Housewives!'"

To understand the phenomenon of shoe sales doesn't take much. All a man needs to do is suck in his pride, turn to his significant other and mutter, "Baby, let's go to the mall."

And the fun begins.

Before I continue, I must explain to my women readers (Mom) that men are shoe illiterate. We stick with a pair of shoes as long as CBS sticks with a daytime game show host -- until five years after his estimated death. The soles may be worn, discolored or completely separate from the rest of the shoe, but it doesn't faze men because the shoe still fits, and there's nothing duct tape can't repair.

Before entering the mall, the man takes one final look at the outside world. It may be the last time he sees the sun. When he resurfaces, odds are the skies will be tarnished by nuclear winter. But the end of the world won't end the sale of shoes.

Once inside, the man trails close behind his female counterpart. He is now a leashed puppy, for he fears wandering away and getting lost in a sea of Gymborees and jewelry kiosks.

Suddenly, the female sees the sign: "SHOE SALE." Her jaw drops. She can't believe her eyes, despite the other 17 shoe stores in the mall also have shoe sales.

And the fun begins. Finally.

The girl thumbs through the shoeboxes, looking for that perfect pair of footwear. With male three steps behind, the girl becomes frustrated and unable to find the shoes she wants.

"They don't have my size!"

"It's the wrong color!"

"This shoe's full of gravy!"

Although she already owns 317 pairs of shoes, she feels dejected and unsuccessful. The woman exits the store, although the male is quite proud of his "gravy in the shoe" gag.

Shoe shopping is halted in lieu of browsing in clothing stores. The woman scouts out all the dresses -- evening gowns, prom dresses, astronaut suits -- while the guy (still trailing three paces) is afraid to even touch the clothing racks, as if the hangers were used tampons.

As the girl visualizes herself in each dress, a peculiar event happens. The man turns around and sees one of his own -- another guy trailing a shopping girl. The men lock eyes for a moment, but nothing is said. As if by telepathy, the profound yet brief message is relayed through testosterone: "I feel ya, bro."

Meanwhile, the girl doesn't buy a dress because every time she pictured wearing it in public, she had 10 extra pounds and everyone noticed. Fortunately, she smells something in the air, like a trained bloodhound. No, it's not the weird guy at the mall who speaks to God through his wristwatch and never showers. It's another shoe sale.

And the fun begins. Part deux.

The pandemonium is comparable to the scene from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" where Veruca Salt (the bratty girl) demanded her father make all his workers unwrap chocolate bars looking for the golden ticket. The difference is, however, at least someone found the golden ticket. None of the women find the shoes they imagine in their mind.

This is because the "perfect shoe" doesn't exist. Shoe corporations purposely make every shoe just a skosh off the mark. Every loafer, sneaker, pump, flip-flop and bunny slipper are "just OK." According to womankind, "if only this one [insert shoe flaw] were just [insert improvement to said flaw], then I'd be [insert feeling women get when they wash their hair like in those shampoo commercials]."

To be fair, men feel the same angst when rummaging through a used video game store. Dreams of striking gold on a cheap, used copy of "Madden 2005" turn to ashes when all they have are one- and two-year old versions. They're the same basic games, but, according to guys, "They're one- or two-years old. Du-uh!"

As the couple leaves the mall, both the man and woman feel a sense of emptiness. The woman bought nothing -- and the man used up all his gravy.

Hip parental tastes rub off on babes

By janet smith
Publish Date: 24-Feb-2005

What happens when a generation obsessed with the aesthetic appeal of iPods, Barcelona chairs, and vintage Air Jordans decides it’s time to start breeding? Forget about Disney figurines, teddy-bear crib sheets, and eyelet-trimmed lamps: increasingly, offspring-minded urbanites are outfitting baby rooms with the same keen eye they apply to the rest of their homes.

Local boutiques catering to the tastes of Wallpaper*-fixated parents are now popping up in neighbourhoods known for funky clothes shops and hipster-friendly cappuccino bars. Baby versions of the grownup’s “lifestyle store”, these shops specialize in carefully chosen collectibles that cover everything from décor to duds.

The newest of the bunch, Dandelion Kids (1206 Commercial Drive), sits beside the packed Havana patio. Standing in the studiolike space, which has
lanterns hanging in the window, Stefanie Missler ponders the buying habits of today’s new mothers and fathers.

“It’s such a design culture now; it’s pervaded our society to a whole new level. We define ourselves by finding the perfect sneaker or whatever,” she explains. “It’s a different generation of parents, and children are an extension of their parents’ tastes—up to a certain age. By now my son’s five and he knows he wants Spider-man shoes.”

In the past, nurseries were generically pretty. Now parents are accessorizing them with the kind of high-design Euro pieces, retro toys, and one-of-a-kind handmade items that Missler carries in her store. “There are the throwbacks to the really traditional wooden toys that last for more than a generation—the kind you’d want to have in your trousseau,” says the mother of two, who has an art-history background.

Her partner in the business is Maria Livingstone, who also works as a costume designer for film and television.

A few of Dandelion Kids’ imported offerings bring to mind the shapes and colours of Italian homeware lines like Alessi: from Vice Versa, which hails from the same country, come stylized neoprene and soft-silicone accessories, including suction-cup hooks emblazoned with stylized baby heads ($10 to $16).

Alongside such boldly modern designs sit pieces with a nostalgic appeal. Fans of the classic children’s storybook will love the Petit Prince blackboards ($34.95). France-based Vilac’s hand-painted wooden bookends and pull toys have old-fashioned springs attaching the bobble heads to wiener dogs, ladybugs, and frogs (about $44.95). And for the real pintsize culture vulture, splurge on one of the label’s artists’ collections: the red wooden pull-toy shark designed by mid-century sculpture star Alexander Calder ($200) is likely to stay displayed on a high shelf.

Missler and Livingstone didn’t have to search overseas for all their unique finds; some of their edgier handmade items are from here in town. Check out Project Danger’s rock ’n’ roll sock monkeys, which sport everything from fur-lined minis to skull-motif sweaters ($68). (“We’ve sold them almost completely to adults so far,” Missler says with a laugh.) The same local label has faux-fur–lined baby pillows with velvet hearts and tattoolike designs ($30). Elsewhere, no two of Erin Boniferro’s Pocket Bears are the same: adorably lopsided and made of neutral shades of cushy fleece, they’re based on drawings by children as young as four ($25).

Up the Drive and around the corner at 1706 East 1st Avenue, another of the city’s newer additions, Chickpea Children’s Boutique, is tapping into young parents’ penchant for all things retro, whether it’s reproduction tin toys by Schylling or carefully chosen classic hardcover books.

“When people walk in here, they say there’s a warmth to it; it brings so much back for them. It reminds them of their grandmother’s place or something,” says owner Sarah Hoivik.

A hit for nurseries are her own Chickpea label’s vintage-look print linens, bearing funky ’40s-style cowboys, airplanes, and robots for boys and paper dolls, poodles, and polka dots for girls.

They come in throw pillows ($39) and blankets of all sizes, some with cushy chenille or velour ($49 to $139). Or decorate a wall with the same fabric sewn over cork into memo boards ($65). Scatter old-school alphabet cards by New York’s Eeboo ($45) over the wall or display pastel-painted ABC blocks by Victoria’s T.?J. Whitneys Traditional Toys on a shelf ($59) to complete the room. Hoivik stresses the décor of today’s nursery is “vintage but still modern, with a clean look”. Think crisp white walls as a backdrop to a patchwork crib blanket and pillows.

Whether it’s in-the-know blasts from the past or ultramodern accessories, the question remains: does surrounding your bundle of joy with all this hip design mean junior is destined for the Parsons Institute or the pages of Architectural Digest? Only time will tell…

Nike fans fail to just queue it

Nike Pigeon Dunk
Gary Younge
Thursday February 24, 2005
The Guardian

New York police were forced to intervene when a "sneaker riot" broke out in Manhattan on Tuesday, with shoppers queueing to buy limited-edition Nike Pigeon Dunk skateboarding trainers.

Despite the presence of a bouncer, fighting broke out when people tried to barge ahead of those who had camped out for up to 48 hours. Only 150 pairs have been made, with just 20 - which bear an exclusive pigeon mark on the heel - on sale in New York.

Explaining the pigeon motif, Jeffrey Ng, founder and creative director of the company that designed it, said: "It's innate to New Yorkers. No other bird in the world will let you walk that close to it. It's tough, and it's brave."

Gabriel Paulino, 22, of Jamaica, Queens, told the New York Post he waited for two days, driving home only once to change and eat, and still didn't get a pair.

The recommended price was $69 (£33) but the shop in question was selling them for $300. There were no arrests but one man was handcuffed in the melee.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

tiny shirts

The slim cut Lacoste polo shown with the standard cut polo beneath it. Both are size 3. (Josh Rubin:Cool Hunting)

I'm wondering if anyone has the answer to this question: with Americans growing increasingly obese and the world's people collectively getting taller and bigger, why is it that designers insist on making their clothes smaller and smaller?

I'm not advocating a return to oversized silhouettes or people walking around dressed liked Bedouins (or Bea Arthur on "The Golden Girls," circa 1987) but there has to be a limit at which 'slim-fit' is slim enough.

The graphic above shows the new, even slimmer fit Lacoste retro polo shirt for the spring. It's the pink one. I know very few poeple who, if they bought it in their size, that would look fashionable in that tiny shirt. The old shirts (the green one behind the pink one) already have been downsized because they were considered too billowy, and now even that is too much.

Luckily, the old Lacoste shirts will still be sold, but it still begs the question...

When is the fashion industry going to learn that making clothes smaller won't create demand? Nobody I know that skinny wants to wear clothes that tight, and those of us who aren't that size can't fit into the clothes. What's more, the skinny guys can alweays downsize to get the look they want in that area; big people can't. The big and tall are stuck wearing the same crap from Casual Male that's been in there for years.

Abercromibie & Fitch started shrinking their tops a few years ago and sales have never truly recovered. Why go down the same path again and again?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Goodwill hunting

A vintage find from Goodwill.

There’s nothing better sometimes than a good deal. As a major shopaholic, I understand fully the need to acquire, but I’m no fool. The best price does matter and has to matter; otherwise you don’t get to go shop as much.

Because of this, I’m a fan of Goodwill stores. The various Goodwill organizations always been a great cause to support; they even helped me find a job one time, but they used to run very dingy, nasty thrift stores with that strange smell that anyone who’s been can recognize. In the past few years however, Goodwill has spruced up. Most of the new stores are clean, bright, and carry things people could actually use, rather than the old broken castoffs from a generation ago.

The Roanoke area is home to a Goodwill organization that operates a network of retail stores throughout Southwest Virginia. When a number of drugstore spaces came on the market after the consolidation of several local chains, Goodwill began a major expansion push into a number of 5,000 to 10,000 square foot spaces in strip malls. Some of those locations became so popular they had to move to bigger spaces, like the Hollins store I visited today, which moved form an old Eckerd store to a bigger former Food Lion next door.

The new Hollins Goodwill, complete with fairy tale-motif exterior design.

The relocated Hollins Goodwill store opened today, and due to both enduring popularity and extensive newspaper advertising, it was packed. Although many of the sections of the store were well-picked by the time I arrived in the afternoon, the music section was still kitchen clean, well at least as clean as a typical new Goodwill.

I didn’t come close to the record-setting purchases of the other day, but I did pick up a few LPs from the recent past, along with a couple of 45s, all for the low price of $2.00 total:

Eddie Murphy - Eddie Murphy
Kenny Rogers – Eyes That See In the Dark
The Harmonizing Four – God Will Take Care of You
Barbra Streisand/Barry Gibb – Guilty
The Oak Ridge Boys – Elvira/A Woman Like You
Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton – Islands in the Stream/ I Will Always Love You

Impressed? Like I say, nothing like a good deal. Especially for a good cause.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Winn-Dixie Seeks Bankruptcy Protection

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. said on Tuesday that it had filed for bankruptcy protection in order to address the "financial and operational challenges that have hampered its performance."

The supermarket chain said the company and 23 of its U.S. subsidiaries filed on Monday voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Winn-Dixie said it had lined up an $800 million debtor-in-possession financing facility from Wachovia Bank.