What is a sneakerhead to do in Chicago?
Better question: what is a sneakerhead?
The answer is actually quite simple. A sneakerhead is someone who loves sneakers and needs to have the latest and greatest in “kicks.” They are sometimes known to spend their rent money on a nice new pair of Nikes.
The obsession runs deep.
But where do sneakerheads go to get their fix in the city of Chicago? And where would the aspiring sneakerhead go if they are not familiar with the area? The Windy City does not have the same reputation for sneakers that New York or Los Angeles does.
Fear not though, there are plenty local shops in the area out to prove that the Foot Lockers and Finish Lines of the world cannot satisfy your true need for great footwear.
“People want something they can’t get elsewhere,” David Rasool Robinson, the manager and photographer of Saint Alfred, commented. “They don’t want a bunch of other people with that [the same sneakers as them].”
The Wicker Park (1531 N. Milwaukee Ave.) sneaker store has been open since 2005 and is their only location. What the store lacks in physical size, it makes up for in sneakers that are exclusive and shirts that are off the wall. A review of Saint Alfred on the website Yelp describes it as “Probably the best sneaker store in Chicago… maybe not for the average consumer but for the pure ‘sneakerhead.'”
Another store that gets a lot of buzz in the city is Akin Chicago. There is one location in University Village (1313 S. Halsted St.). There used to be one located in Lincoln Park (2350 N. Clark St.) just minutes from the DePaul University campus.
“New York’s got their game on, West Coast has their game on, but Chicago is keeping up with them, it’s growing rapidly,” John Nguyen said. “I don’t know how it is out in New York or L.A. or any other city versus Chicago. But everyone here is kind of like a family you know.”
Nguyen, the former owner of the Akin Chicago Lincoln Park location, is doing his best to reach out to the community near the school. The store offers a 20 percent discount to DePaul University students and he said that the DePaul basketball team frequents the store.
What both Robinson and Nguyen agree on are the advantages to going to smaller and more local stores as compared to going to the bigger chains that are nationwide. The selection of Jordans, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Reebok along with caps, shirts, outerwear and accessories is what attract people to the local stores, but what separates them is the flavor they bring that bigger stores don’t.
“People, especially sneakerheads, they don’t like going to corporate stores,” Nguyen admitted. “They like to support the local business, the ‘mom and pop’ stores, [it's] more personable.”
Robinson and Nguyen also let it be known that they stick to the local theme not just by what they sell, but also by using local designers in creating apparel.
“[In-house designers] makes it that much more of a representative of the city,” Robinson said. “Chicago is rich with talent.”
There are many more local sneaker stores in the city, and one wonders if there is ever rivalry to steal customers away from those other stores? Not according to the store employees.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s a competition,” Robinson conceded, saying that it would do not only the stores, but also the city a disservice. “If there is any competition, it’s to make the city better.”
So if there is a sneaker that you want but can’t find, go to one of these stores. Can’t find them there? Try out Belmont Army, City Sports, or any number of quality sneaker shops. They will be more than happy to point you in the direction of another great store for “sneakerheads.”