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Sneaker shop Sole High looks to increase Buffalo 'sneakerhead' community

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When it comes to sneaker culture, Buffalo isn’t a city that is on a sneakerhead’s mind. The type of ‘steez’ that an exclusive or OG pair of kicks can add to an ‘alphet’ is heavily slept on in Western New York.

Now, this isn’t to say that the entire region is sneaker ignorant. There are definitely sneakerheads but access to specialty sneakers is extremely limited.

Buffalo-based sneaker boutique Sole High is looking to bring water to the well. Since opening last November, the store has been rapidly creating a fanbase. Stocked with kicks that you’ll only see on sneaker blogs, it looks to create an atmosphere that not only can be a place to cop your grails – that one pair of sneakers you can’t leave without – or to gain some knowledge on the culture. Sole High has also been quick to take its passion and provide an incentive for kids to do better in school.

“There’s a decent sneaker culture here [in Buffalo] and it was something people wanted,” said Polo Kerber, store manager of Sole High on Elmwood Ave. “We get a lot of people that wear runners, some are into the exclusive Jordans and the fashion of it.”

Anthony Solomon, a senior business major at SUNY Buffalo State, considers the sneaker culture in Buffalo to be unifying.

“The [sneaker] culture is a popular thing here in Buffalo,” Solomon said. “People of all ages and classes sleep out for exclusive sneaker drops in the hopes of getting a pair.”

As a one-stop sneaker shop, Sole High also provides customization and restoration services to its customers.

As prominent members of the sneakerhead community, the boutique made a splash in its grand opening, which was held this past spring due to last winter’s inclement weather.

“Freehand Profit did our grand opening once spring hit, he did a live chop of a pair of [Jordan] Wolf Grey Vs that he was working on,” Kerber said. “His wife also did a live painting of the [Jordan] Champagne & Cigar IV mask he made for us.”

Freehand Profit is an artist that breaks down sneakers to their piece components and reconstructs them into masks. An innovative style of art, it has brought him to an international level and while few people may know his artist name, they know the art.

Knowing the market, Sole High notices that many of its customers are students that come from New York City, but at times the boutique still finds itself surprised by the far reach that sneaker culture has.

“We get a lot of traffic from Buff State since it’s down the street, but we do get some from UB,” said Kerber. “We had an Asian customer from UB who could barely speak English, but he learned how to take the bus out here and he’s here pretty often.”

When people think of sneaker culture and sneakerheads, block-long lines of young kids waiting for the latest drop typically comes to mind.

“It’s a business now, supply and demand – I respect it,” said Yusef Burgos, assistant manager of Sole High. “Every store is doing a raffle for kicks now. In my opinion, using bots is unfair, but that’s just the market and what the culture has become today. Demand is way higher than supply.”

Bots allow resellers to cop as many kicks that are newly released before they sell out. This allows them to get anywhere from five to upwards of 30 pairs of a pair of sneakers to resell at higher face value.

But reselling isn’t what sneaker culture is, or was.

“Sneaker culture today is not the same as it was in the past – it was connected and personal. During campouts people would chill, tell stories and bring alcohol,” Burgos said. “Now, it’s a very different vibe and it’s money-driven. They’re buying sneakers to impress the next man, not for the love of it.”

The lines of campers come from an ever-growing demand coupled with a supply that is nowhere near efficient in satisfying this demand. Improved technology allows certain consumers to bypass buying limits and corner the market of certain models and styles of sneakers, then reselling them for inflated prices.

Reselling is a great way to make a quick buck,” Solomon said. “I did it for the KD Aunt Pearls and made a net profit of $100. Took a total of 30 minutes of being listed on eBay to sell.”

Buffalo isn’t a place that sees lines of campers waiting hours or days for a pair of kicks, but when you only have access to generic chain sneaker stores, you will not find yourself getting too deep into the culture.

“We have exclusive stuff, but we also have stuff for people that aren’t into the culture like that,” Kerber said. “Some people will walk in and won’t understand why a Yeezy is $5,000 or why Nike Mags are $26,000.”

While Sole High prides itself on the exclusivity of the sneakers that it stocks, the store does well to keep the product diverse to cater to the diverse demographic of Buffalo.

Kerber notes that while sneaker culture might not be that heavy in the city, the Jordan brand is Sole’s best seller.

“We have a contract with Saucony, so we get our retail and release date stuff from them,” Kerber said. “Jordans sell well, we can’t hold onto XIs or XIIs, those are our best sellers, IIIs and VIs also sell well.”

The Jordan brand is one that represents ubiquity in sneakers. It’s a brand that offers itself as both a serious fashion contender and objects of nostalgia. From the Jordan XII “Flu Game,” inspired by Michael Jordan’s iconic championship game win while he was sick with the flu, to the Jordan IIIs, which would be the first Jordan sneaker to feature the now iconic Jumpman logo.

Though most active sneakerheads are younger, Sole High devised a way to incentivize the learning process in the classroom.

As anyone who’s ever owned a pair of sneakers knows, they get creased quick and dirty even quicker. As aficionados in the art of customization and restoration, the Sole High team saw a way to help the community and, once again, took the shot.

Oracle Charter School is a high school down the street from the boutique. It knows the allure sneakers have to the youth, so in exchange for good grades and perfect attendance, kids are offered various opportunities.

“We set up a program where they have to get good grades and perfect attendance, we have our restorer and customizer go over and teach the kids to restore and customize kicks,” said Kerber. “We’re also doing giveaways with Sole High shirts, Rock’em socks and keychains.”

Plans for the program, currently unnamed, started in the beginning of this year, but it wasn’t put into effect until the beginning of the 2015 marking period.

Purveyors of the culture, just a year in and Sole High’s influence has gone far beyond a sneaker product.

Being the first of it’s kind in Buffalo, Sole High plans on leaving a permanent mark on not only sneaker culture, but the city as well.

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is an arts editor. Arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.


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