A true collector knows his/her stuff and can spot value and quality a mile away. Baseball cards, little figurines, watches, cars – all sorts of items can demand big bucks and nearly become an obsession.
Have you ever wanted an item so badly, you would spend upwards of $30,000 to get your hands on it? What about a pair of gym shoes?
The concept may seem foreign to some, but today more people are willing to plop down thousands of dollars, not on a red-bottomed pump or fashion accessory, but on a gym shoe.
In the heart of downtown Detroit, a relatively new store is specializing in one thing – sneakers. Nojo Kicks is embracing the sneaker culture and, at the same time, serving as a kind of exchange trading marketplace for fanciful fly footwear.
Mike Williams is Nojo’s manager and sneaker-head-in-residence. When the store opened in 2014, he came by to check out the inventory and possibly pick up a new pair of kicks. After taking in the vibe of the store and what it had to offer, he immediately asked owner Andy Beltskiy for a job. Since then, he has become a marketer, salesman and chief negotiator with prospective shoe buyers and traders.
The name Nojo comes from the first names of the owner’s sons Noah and Jordan, who are huge fans of the sneaker culture.
“If I had to guess, I probably have about 250 pair of (premium) shoes in my personal collection,” says Williams, a former personal trainer and current youth basketball coach. “This is what I like and I buy what looks good to me. It’s not always about the investment. It’s also about style.”
He says his first decision each day is what shoe he is going to wear and then everything else in his day’s ensemble revolves around his shoe choice.
On the day we spoke, he was sporting his Air Jordan 3 Retro, “Black Cement,” a pair valued at more than $500, depending on the day. According to Williams, the price on these high-end shoes can rise and fall like the stock market. As the manager of the store, he keeps up on the latest trends, releases and ebbs and flows of the sneaker market.
Shoes in the store can range from about $100 and go higher than you could probably imagine. Nojo recently sold a pair of Eminem and Carharrtt’s Air Jordan IV sneakers for $30,000. Williams wouldn’t share who purchased the kicks, but did say people buying the premium shoes are not always the uber wealthy.
“I have seen guys come in and spend their entire paychecks on a pair of kicks,” he says.
“People want to identify with something exclusive,” says Williams. “When it comes to pricing, it’s more about who is in the shoe, than the shoe itself.”
A celebrity/athlete endorsement on a shoe can mean a huge demand and adds to the mystique of owning something with limited availability.
The sneaker culture is complex and simple at the same time. If Michael Jordan wore a particular shoe in a game back when he played, the interest, price and attention is heightened. The same goes for celebrities lending their name to a show partnership like Eminem, DJ Khaled, Kevin Hart and others. The more popular the name, the more exclusive the shoe, and the higher the value on the sneaker market.
Hoy Monk, a 32-year old Detroiter, who is a 6’9” former semi-pro basketball player and a Nojo customer, is self-proclaimed lover of the sneaker culture.
“Both my wife and I are into sneakers,” he says. “I have about 55 pair of shoes I have collected over ten years. The difference between my shoes and what my wife has is she also collects high-end dress shoes. I got started because I wanted to have something sweet.”
Monk also works at a local Champs Sports part-time. So, he knows what he is looking at when he goes shopping for shoes.
“It is all about the look of the shoe for me. I remember getting my first pair of Jordan’s back in the day. I saw him play and I wanted to wear what he had on,” he says.
A quick perusal of the Nojo website will give you an idea of the wide variety of some of the shoes it offers. Williams says all of the 500+ premium shoes in the store can be seen on the site. There is also an entire section in the store upstairs and on the website for the resale kicks market.
Nojo’sCloset is slightly used shoes. Depending on the shoe, even a shoe on the secondary market can be pricey. It all depends on what someone is looking for and how exclusive it is.
The store not only sells shoes, it also buys and trades specialty kicks. I watched as a young man came into the store on the day of our conversation to sell a pair of shoes. Williams examined every inch of the sneaker. He tugged here, poked there, sniffed the inside and outside and then politely told the young man they wouldn’t be able to take the shoe in trade.
I later asked Williams why he didn’t take the shoe. “I could tell by the look, feel and smell of the glue that the shoe was a fake,” he says “We are happy to trade shoes for our customers, but I have to be careful we don’t get swindled at the same time.”
Watching as he examined the shoe, it was easy to see buying, selling, collecting and trading sneakers is serious business. Maybe $30,000 is out of your range, but regardless of what you want to spend, Nojo Kicks on Library Street in the city seems like a good spot to trade in a new high-end market – sneakers.
– Editors note: Since we did the interview for this story Mike Williams has left the Nojo Kicks. Even so, we wanted to share this story with you because it highlights another new market in our ever-transforming city.
Photos by Paul Engstrom (unless denoted otherwise)