The retail business is in a dismal place. Stores once considered institutions shuttered their doors permanently, and even the strongest companies have experienced financial struggles over the course of economic fallout associated with the current global health crisis. While big businesses struggle, small businesses face more challenging prospects for survival. This is especially true for Black-owned independent sneaker shops.
Systemic inequities place Black-owned businesses at a disadvantage. The economic shutdown caused by COVID-19 further damaged prospects for minority owners, 58 percent of whom were already suffering financial distress. A recent New York Fed report indicates nearly half of all Black small businesses folded as the pandemic disproportionately devastated minority communities. Black-owned entities are twice as likely to close shop as their white counterparts. It's more important now than ever to seek out and support these sneaker stores if we want to see them survive beyond 2020.
The global protests against racism placed a spotlight on the inequalities Black people face, including those who own small businesses. Many owners can attest to the struggles associated with applying for bank loans, and recent Paycheck Protection Program funds failed to make it to Black businesses, with nearly 95 percent being ineligible to receive relief. Without those financial lifelines, these stores may struggle to stay afloat.
Black people's voices have been marginalized inside sneaker companies despite said companies using Black athletes, celebrities, and culture to line their coffers for decades. Now, we're facing erasure on the retail side. It's frustrating, considering how we have always played an integral role in the sneaker business and culture.
With that in mind, we compiled a list of Black-owned sneaker shops worthy of patronage. These small stores form the soul of many sneaker communities across the map. Without them, sneakerheads would wind up with bland chain store options that prioritize profits over people. Shopping small means keeping dollars and jobs in the community. Want to make inclusion a reality? Shopping with a Black business is a solid step in the right direction.
This is far from an exhaustive list of every Black-owned boutique across the globe. Feel free to shoot me a line via Twitter or Instagram if you're a store owner or a customer looking to spread the word about places you rock with. I would love to add more.
Owner: Roland "Ro Spit" Coit
Location: Royal Oak, Michigan
Burn Rubber, a Michigan mainstay, built a name for itself over the years through collaborations with the likes of New Balance, Fila, Reebok, and more along with an Eminem-produced reality show profiling the shop's blue-collar mentality. The shelves at the Roland "Ro Spit" Coit's Royal Oak, Michigan shop stay stocked with essentials: Air Force 1s, Adidas Top Tens, Converse collabs, and Saucony runners to list a few. For added shopping convenience for local patrons, they offer a "fast shoes" walk-up window, which more stores should consider employing to encourage social distancing.
Owner: Corey Gilkey
Leaders has stood as the epicenter of Chicago's streetwear, hip-hop, and creative scenes since opening its doors in 2002. Not only does the shop keep the latest sneakers, but its branded apparel makes the place a one-stop-shop to cop a complete fit. Beyond the sneakers and gear, owner Corey Gilkey served as a mentor to creatives in the city, many of whom got their start working on the store's retail floor. Pay homage by spending a few dollars to make sure he and Leaders remain around to teach future generations.
A Ma Maniere
Owner: James Whitner
Locations: Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C.
With outposts in Atlanta, Houston, and Washington D.C., A Ma Maniere stands as the crown jewel in James Whitner's footwear conglomerate. The high-end experience starts with the brands in stock—ranging from Saint Laurent and Moncler to Off-White and Fear of God alongside Nike, Jordan, Adidas, etc.—but it doesn't end there. A Ma Maniere offers by-appointment shopping options, the Houston shop includes a restaurant, and the D.C. door boasts a lavish hotel, giving a whole new meaning to camping out for sneakers. Whitner and company work hard to raise the stakes on what sneaker retail can be in a world where online window shopping has become a bore.
Owner: Marcus Jordan
Location: Online (for now)
Having Michael Jordan as your dad sounds like a cheat code to success to anyone looking to run their own shoe store. Trophy Room owner Marcus Jordan owns the advantage of being the offspring of the man largely responsible for the sneaker craze. But the younger MJ doesn't coast off his last name. He's an astute student of the game who strives to ensure Trophy Room puts its best foot forward. The storytelling and attention to detail bring value to the shop's exclusive Jordan collaborations. The store's decor, which pulls inspiration from the trophy room within the family residence, separates it from any other sneaker spot, although the store is currently in transition from its Disney Springs location. Even Trophy Room's polished online presence speaks volumes. Safe to say excellence runs in the family.
Owner: Dionte Johnson
Location: Columbus, Ohio
This Columbus, Ohio, shop stakes its claim as having #thebestdamnvansintheland. The variety doesn't end there, since Sole Classics stocks up on everything from Asics and Reebok to Nike and New Balance. Like many other shops across the country, people vandalized Sole Classics when protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd. Owner Dionte Johnson didn't complain. Instead, he used the incident as a teachable moment. He suggested others look past the damage to examine the reasons why people—teenagers in this case—felt the need to riot and loot in the first place. "The reason why I want to see more Black businesses survive and flourish and be successful is because we need more examples [of success] in our community beyond entertainment," he told Columbus CEO. "That's not a talent that you could pass on to your kids and guarantee success, [like a business could]."
Owner: James Whitner
Location: Jersey City, New Jersey
Another one of James Whitner’s brick and mortar stores, Prosper calls Jersey City home, pulling its name from the city’s motto “Let Prosper.” The polished showroom houses an array of Adidas, Jordans, and Nike products as well as a broad range of store-branded apparel. More importantly, Prosper helps further The Whitaker Grp’s mission to raise awareness around issues affecting the Black community: free educational seminars, pushing for voter registration, and participating in #TWGBlackout, a social media campaign marrying a sneaker giveaway with encouraging customers to commit to taking actions to help those around them. All proving once again it’s bigger than sneakers for many small Black boutiques.
Owners: Virgil Abloh and Don C
Locations: Chicago, Los Angeles
RSVP Gallery, established by Virgil Abloh and Don C in 2009 in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, is equal parts luxury boutique and art gallery for a conceptualized retail space. The footwear choices run the gamut of Nike, Off-White, Adidas, and others. The apparel offerings cover all the names necessary to set your Instagram feed on fire: Dior, Mastermind, Martine Rose, and Undercover to list a few. Unfortunately, looters hit the Los Angeles location back in May, which is tough for any business, no matter the owners' stature.
Union Los Angeles
Owner: Chris Gibbs
Location: Los Angeles
Owned and operated by Chris Gibbs, Union Los Angeles holds ground as one of the O.G. streetwear purveyors. After nearly 20 years years in business, they still strive to bring new brands and variety to customers on the regular. Not too many shops can boast expansive footwear lineups that include ACG sandals, various Vans, Raf Simons runners, and Thom Browne loafers. And do we have to mention the high-profile collaborations with Jordan Brand? Didn't think so, act like you know.
Owners: Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-DMC and Eric "Shake" James
Location: Shorewood, Wisconsin
Founded in 2015 by Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-DMC and Eric "Shake" James, Clicks keeps the shelves stocked with the best in Adidas footwear and apparel offerings. The specialty store is a perfect place for anyone searching for the latest Three Stripes collaborations with Y-3, Oyster Holdings Co., Pharrell's Human Made, Kanye West's Yeezy line, and the like.
Owners: Guillaume "Gee" Schmidt and Edison Sabajo
Locations: Amsterdam, London, Milan
The Amsterdam-based shop needs no introduction. Not with its long list of collaborations with the likes of Nike, Reebok, Stussy, Converse, Asics, Levi's…you get the point. And that's the tip of the iceberg, because the eponymous apparel line carries its weight as well. The two guys running the show, Guillaume "Gee" Schmidt and Edison Sabajo, epitomize what it means to run a small business successfully. What started as one store in 2004 now includes additional doors in London and Italy. One of the company tagline's further explains why it's so beloved: "Out of love and necessity rather than profit and novelty."
Owner: James Whitner
Locations: Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Houston, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Florida
I visited Social Status' Charlotte location—one of eight spread across the South and East Coast—last summer back when outside was still a thing. The store looked and felt like a modern in-store sneaker shopping experience. The intuitive layout made it easy to move around. The displays looked like an Instagram photo brought to life. The staff greeted me as soon as I walked in, politely answered questions about stock, and did everything to make my shopping experience a pleasant one. Not pretentious, yet nowhere near the generic vibe attached to bigger chain stores. I didn't buy anything that day, even though I wanted to just so just I could say I did my part to support to a small, Black business approaching footwear retail the right way.
Owners: Bobby Simmons and LaVelle "V-Dot" Sykes
Opened in 2008, SuccezZ thrives as another Chicago shopping haunt that stocks all the latest from Jordan Brand, Nike, Adidas, and Puma as well as a selection of old and rare finds as well. Owners former NBA player Bobby Simmons and fellow Windy City native LaVelle "V-Dot" Sykes shifted their focus to the store's website and social media when local stay at home orders closed the Michigan Ave location in March. Some employees remained on staff to handle incoming shipments and process online orders. Give them a call and place an order to make sure SuccezZ still stands once we emerge on the other side of the current shitstorm.
Owner: Eric "Shake" James
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The sister store to Clicks, downtown Milwaukee's Sneex offers a wider range of footwear brands—Puma, Reebok, Dr. Martens to name a few—with loads of apparel and other lifestyle items. Beyond shopping options, Sneex weaves in the owner's appreciation for gaming, music and community by hosting speaker forums, movie screenings, fundraisers, and other events. A good place to pick up a pair of Yeezys while picking up some game on the industry, too.
Owner: Eric Williams
Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan
Ypsilanti, Michigan, may not be the first place that comes to mind when we're talking footwear. But Puffer Reds, the former small record shop turned sneaker store, has been an institution in the city since 1979. Now with two locations in the area, Eric Williams' family-owned business doesn't disappoint when it comes to selection since it carries everything from staple Adidas models to full-family sizing for Jordan retros.
Owner: Pusha T
Locations: Norfolk, Virginia, Philadelphia
Pusha T's relevance in the sneaker space goes beyond his Adidas collaborations. The head of G.O.O.D. Music also co-owns Creme 321, a lifestyle boutique brand with locations in Philadelphia and his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. The list of brands Creme stocks read like the lyrics of one of his song verses: Fear of God, Rhude, Moncler, Visvim, Just Don, and more - and reflect the rapper's keen tastes for quality stuff.
Hush Lifestyle Boutique
Co-Owner: Ramon Blackburn
Location: Englewood, New Jersey
Looking for the right mix of kicks and gear to get the outfit grid popping? Hush Lifestyle Boutique has it covered for men and women, too. The shoes and clothing cover a mix of names hot now alongside emerging ones that will be talked about soon enough. Hush's online presence shines but the polished appearance of the Englewood, New Jersey, shop just got added to my list of spots to check out in-person once the pandemic eases its grip.
Owner: Jarius Jones
Location: Warner Robins, Georgia
Fresh Sneaker Boutique is nine years in the game after self-funding the store's opening with three credit cards. The shop, based in Warner Robins, Georgia, south of Atlanta, moves with the fight and pride of an underdog determined to beat the odds. Not only do they stock the major brands, but they also keep space on the shelves for other small clothing companies to sell their wares. The goodwill doesn't end there. They recently partnered with a local church to bless all the fifth graders at a local elementary school with new kicks. Efforts like those deserve a little love in return from the sneaker community to make sure FRESH can continue to do good.
APB Sneaker + Apparel Boutique
Owner: James Whitner
Locations: Columbia, South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Jacksonville, Florida, Tallahassee, Florida
APB falls under the Whitaker Group's umbrella of businesses with three locations in South Carolina and two in Florida. Loads of brands on deck and all the major releases that make sneakerheads salivate on Saturday mornings. APB proves it's about more than shoes by doing community-based initiatives like voter registration drives, bike club rides, and scholarship giveaway for the young people whose passion is streetwear. Just the kind of offerings a small business can provide the people it serves and do it better than larger retailers.
Owner: Greg Grovey
Location: Austin, Texas
Hit up Kicking It for a little love from Austin, Texas. They stock the latest releases from Nike, Jordan, adidas, Vans, and more plus a dope selection of matching apparel. Closing in on its second anniversary in October, the place embodies the name: a full-service bar, non-alcoholic beverages for the kiddos, and gaming consoles create a full in-store experience for customers. And Kicking It does their share of good, too, like their recent sneaker donation drive to collect shoes for the homeless.
Owners: Chance McGrady and Tracy McGrady
Location: Houston, Texas
NBA Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady and his brother Chance McGrady own and operate this Houston sneaker haunt. With T-Mac being an adidas athlete throughout his playing career, the Stripes’ presence is heavy in the footwear selection, but New Balance and Puma products are also in the mix. More than shoes, Soul Lounge offers both men’s and women’s apparel so everybody can get fits off.
Owners: James “JB” Booker and Eugene “Pooh” Jeter III
Location: Los Angeles
Hoops and sneakers share a long history. So it only makes sense Eugene “Pooh” Jeter III, a former Sacramento Kings’ point guard who still plays professionally overseas, and his partner James “JB” Baker would marry the two together for LA-based shop Laced. The store’s name is an acronym for “Los Angeles Creates Endless Dreams” and the mentality flows through everything they do. The shop boasts one of the few Nike accounts for a Black-owned biz in the South Bay area, making them the go-to spot for the latest colorways of retro Air Max, Blazers, VaporMax, and the like. Laced stays rooted in the neighborhood by taking on additional endeavors like creating a podcast, hosting toy drives and turkey drives for the holidays, sponsoring basketball events and music events, and more. Initiatives like those give locals both young and old the inspiration to know they can do it, too.