They came out in droves—all 1000-plus of them. They were men, women, boys, and girls. They came from all five boroughs, and some from afar, from the stretches of Westchester, Long Island, and even New Jersey. They formed a queue, one so long that it wrapped around like a Python from the front door of The Times Square Arts Center on Eighth Avenue curving through 42nd Street. And as this was Sunday in New York, not even an impending Nor'easter could stop them.
Collectively, they all wanted the same thing—to find a pair of rare, exclusive sneakers. And though they may already own several pairs, they all wanted more. But it wasn't even brand new sneakers they were after. Some would buy vintage—already worn—sneakers from vendors, and others would barter from their own collections, if they found a pair another attendee had that was of equal value. And the place where it all happened: Sneaker Con 2009.
Sneaker collectors like West Wing, who has attended events like this before, started his day at 12 noon. By 3:00 p.m., he sold four of the eight pairs of sneakers he brought out with him. And, he had even purchased two pair, both Nike: one the Nike SB Dunk Ferris Bueller and the other the Nike SB Mork and Mindy Dunk. While he admitted spending a pretty penny for those choice pairs, it wasn't as bad as the time he paid half of his rent for pair. "I ended up reselling them on ebay for $1500, so it was good," he said.
In its first year, Sneaker Con was founded by brothers Alan Vinogradov, 21, Barris Vinogradov, 28, and their partner Yu-Ming Wu, 30. The Vinogradov brothers are also founders of Gradient Magazine, a cultural and fashion publication distributed in New York City. They are also the founders of Osneaker.com, one of the few high-end sneaker resale sites on the Internet. Wu runs a network of sneaker blog/sites full time—freshnessmag.com, freshnessguide.com, kicksfinder.com and sneakernews.com. Like them, many of the 20 vendors, who all paid $100 for a table, were enterprising young men.
"Alan, Barris, and I have been talking about a sneaker convention for a few months, something that does not yet exist for sneaker heads. To jump start our vision we decided to do a buy/sell/trade event to test the market and see how effective our marketing is. Though there have been buy/sell/trade events in the past, nothing generated this much participation and buzz on the blogs," said Wu.
Because it's a buy/sell/trade event, it's not only the vendors who make money. Anyone who paid $10 to get in, and got a NYC Token stamped on the back of their hand, was a merchant. On the trade floor—boxes and shoes displayed in hand like a window front, sneakers dangling from necks like baby shoes tied around a rearview mirror—deals were made, hand-to-hand. The founders estimate that about $40,000 to $50,000 worth of goods exchanged hands at the event.
This underground sneaker culture may have found its home on Sunday, but Sneaker Con simply serves as an open market conduit to an industry that's been practiced for some years now. "There are also resell and consignment shops throughout the country where sellers bring their sneakers and let the store sell them, Flight Club is one of them here in New York," said Wu. But there's also ebay, that Wu estimates generates $100,000 to $200,000 worth of sneaker sales a day, with prices ranging from $30 to $1,500, and even up to $22,000 for the Nate Robinson All Star Game Slam Dunk Contest sneakers. Rare and classic shoes, especially those no longer available at retail, often bring in the highest prices. Besides ebay and events like Sneaker Con, there's also trades/sales on message boards, as well as resell sites on the Web. For real sneaker enthusiasts, an event like this is the ultimate, they get to see and feel the merchandise upfront and make a deal—often haggling—for the best price. It's a world where the shoes aren't made for walking, but instead for profiling, recycling, reupping, and then profiling some more.