When my best friend in high school announced she would be wearing a pair of Air Jordans to prom, I raised my eyebrows. Though a nontraditional choice, it’s one that’s of increasing prevalence today (people even get married in kicks now). At the time her boyfriend introduced her to a shoe-obsessed culture full of people who dubbed themselves “sneakerheads.” In celebration of this kicks-obsessed population, downtown shoe store and boutique Coastal Kicks (201 N. 2nd St.), in conjunction with Coast 97.3 and style consultant TJ Dunn, will hold a convention called “Sneaker Jam” this Sunday, July 20th. The event will be a shoe trade, featuring rare and autographed offerings, with a portion of proceeds from the ticket sales benefitting the Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington, an organization which helps disadvantaged youth.
“Wilmington has a huge sneakerhead population,” shop owner Alan Murphy explains, “which, if you think about it, makes sense; this is the hometown of Mike Jordan. Wilmington has an appreciation for sneakers unlike anywhere else in the world. People will come from out of town and tell me they pose at the Laney [High School] sign. It’s hallowed ground; it’s like the Jerusalem to sneakerheads.”
The sneakerheads movement first gained popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Air Jordans, released in 1985, were the first shoes to kickstart the craze. As time went on, NBA player Lebron James began a line of sneakers in different colors. While some were mass-produced, others generated limited editions. The rarity and exclusivity cultivated a craze that yielded droves of enthusiasts who camped out overnight for the shoes. Rereleases of shoes are now prevalent. In 2011 they released the Air Jordan 11 Concords—worn by Jordan himself in the 1995 semi–finals. The draw to the culture entails an element of nostalgia, too.
“[Shoe collecting] became a passion; it’s a hobby,” Murphy describes. “Sneakers are a way to express individuality. They’ve become art work.”
Murphy became a shoe fanatic after a fateful trip to Florida in which he procured a pair of Nike Air Max 95s. When he returned to his hometown of Greensboro, he realized no one else had them. He was hooked.
Murphy relocated to Wilmington three years ago. Frequent trips back to Greensboro to obtain more shoes led him to realize Wilmington needed a spot to fulfill this niche.
“I have never worked in a shoe store,” he tells. “I have never worked in a clothing store or anything. I would stay up to date on shoes that were coming out and I would get what I could.”
In 2012 he opened Coastal Kicks, which was runnerup for Best Shoe Store in this year’s encore Best Of Awards. Since opening he’s garnered a loyal following of sneaker enthusiasts.
He began small, getting primarily basic sneakers; the business requires a show of potential before landing higher contracts with shoe purveyors. But Murphy’s passion toward shoes, along with local interest, quickly bumped him up the hierarchy. He is now on the top tier with Reebok and Asics. As well, connections with a sales rep of New Balance, who resides in Wrightsville Beach, boost the quality of shoes he stocks. The store’s status as a boutique allows him to get the crème de la crème of shoes. He’s currently working on getting an account with Nike—the mecca of shoedom.
“You could be Michael Jordan’s son, and you will sit on the sidelines for a couple years before you get an account,” Murphy quips. “Hopefully, I will be able to get my Nike account this fall, and then we will be the spot that has people camping out.”
Before landing the deal with Nike, he intends to make some modifications to the store. Murphy wants to showcase the best from the inside-out. “I don’t want to get the basic, generic, Foot Locker-type shoes; I want the extremely limited [shoes] no one else in the state gets,” Murphy proclaims.
The amount of success he’s seen since opening inspired him to hold Wilmington’s first ever shoe convention. “People have done sneaker conventions in a lot of other towns,” he says. “I don’t know why we haven’t. I think it’s going to be bigger than we initially anticipated.”
Murphy already has seen an abundance of interest. One man even contacted him about bringing a pair of Jordan’s that came out in ’85. The man got Jordan to autograph the shoes in ’86 and again in the early aughts. “Something autographed by Mike twice; you’ll never see that again!” Murphy exclaims.
The event will feature a host of shoes with similar stories. It will give people the opportunity to buy, sale, trade, or show off kicks. There will be live music spun by Bigg B of and DJ Mike Lang of Coast 97.3.
Helping out the kids with the Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington proved a no-brainer for Murphy. He intends to share his growing success with the community.
“To be in the position I’m in now is a blessing,” he states. “Money is nothing but a paper and a promise; it’s what you do with it. The fact I’ve been able to sell shoes and it’s gotten me into a position where I can speak to little kids means the absolute world to me.”
Sunday, July 20th, 1 p.m.
Carolina Club 1880
27 N. Front St.