Written by Russ Bengtson (@RussBengtson)
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” —Frank Sinatra
“Nothing's equivalent to the New York state of mind” —NaS
Before we even get into this, it’s worth noting that New York tends to have something of a superiority complex. And the sum is even greater than its stunningly arrogant parts: Compared to New York as a whole, Donald Trump is a model of modesty and decorum. But that’s not to say said superiority is always misplaced. (Have you ever seen a shirt that read “IOWA FUCKING CITY”? Didn’t think so.) So asking whether New York City is the sneaker capital of the United States, the world, the entire known universe? That’s like asking if water is wet, if the sky is blue, if Beyoncé sold a lot of records.
New York is the epicenter of the sneaker world. To say anything else is to be in denial.
Goddamn right it is.
All respect due to Boston, the older brother up North, but capital? For serious? Someone’s been putting something in that Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. We’re really happy for you and we’re gonna let you finish, but New York City is the best sneaker city of all time. Of all time! Please pass the Hennessy.
That’s not to say the points my esteemed colleague made yesterday were wrong. Far from it. Plenty of brands started in the Northeast: New Balance and Converse are the godfathers of all American sneaker companies. And Boston’s sneaker boutiques are second to none (in America, anyway). But with all due respect, so f*cking what?
Much like the government, sneakers are of the people, by the people, for the people. And without fail, those people look to New York City for guidance. Boston has a history of great collabs? Cool story, bro. The Nike Air Force 1 is called the “Uptown,” which doesn’t refer to Brookline or Beacon Hill. Sneaker culture itself was birthed in New York, as exhaustively illustrated in Bobbito Garcia’s Where’d You Get Those? (“Ah,” you might say, “but his groundbreaking sneaker column was published in The Source, which was founded in Boston.” To which we’d say “shut the f*ck up.”) Sneaker boutiques? Yeah, NYC has them. Been had them since Boston was still mourning the curse of the Bambino. And sure, Concepts and Bodega are doing great things now, but they’re just following the trail blazed by pioneers like ALIFE Rivington Club, Classic Kicks and (if Boston can claim Nike’s Exeter, NH outpost) New Jersey’s Packer Shoes. Then there’s Ronnie Fieg and Kith, who’s done for New Balance and ASICS what Jay Z did for the Yankees hat.
Much like the government, sneakers are of the people, by the people, for the people. And without fail, those people look to New York City for guidance.
But that’s just the boutiques, which are a relatively recent phenomenon. Leaves compared to roots. New York was the home of Broadway Sneakers, Gerry Cosbys, Carlsen Imports, Paragon Sports, Jew Man’s. Those stores were (and, in the case of Paragon Sports, are) to sneakers what CBGB was to music. And there’s a reason that companies—including New Balance—put their flagship stores in the Big Apple. New York is the epicenter of the sneaker world. To say anything else is to be in denial.
And that’s not even getting into Supreme, which isn’t a sneaker store per se, but a) have been putting everyone on notice with their collabs for nearly two decades now, and b) consummated the marriage between skate, streetwear, and sneakers. It’s also worth noting that while the original Lafayette Street location has spawned worldwide outlets, none of them are in Beantown.
Again, nothing against Boston. Converse has the Chuck Taylor, New Balance deserves all the praise in the world for continuing to manufacture sneakers in America. But if it’s company bases that matter, why not Portland, which serves as home to both Nike and adidas’s U.S. headquarters? If it’s boutiques, why isn’t Chicago in the conversation? (Chicago also being home to one Michael Jordan.) Or Miami? That said, Jordans and LeBrons both come in New York colorways. And boutiques don’t need to collaborate on sneakers so often when the companies themselves continually churn out NYC-themed models for worldwide distribution.
No, if there’s a single sneaker capital in the U.S., it’s New York City. Always has been, always will be. New York is where your sneakers proclaiming your status started, and that spread nationwide, even to cities where driving trumped walking. New England still makes sneakers, but New York City makes sneakers matter. What’s more important?