Entrepreneur brings a taste of sneaker culture to Lynchburg

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Trying to find Rhontae Harris’ sneaker store on one of the busiest stretches of Wards Road in Lynchburg can be a little tricky.

It was even difficult for Harris to find the perfect place to launch his business: a high-end sneaker shop.

Harris, who was not living in Lynchburg at the time, looked around for a while before moving into town to launch the store.

“I was living in Keysville at the time…” Harris said. “I took a whole day off and called a few real estate agents with properties, but couldn’t find anything.”


Harris said he was leaving River Ridge Mall in Lynchburg when he came across a small mall at 2611 Wards Road, just before Cookout when heading south on Wards Road.

“I saw the ‘for rent’ sign and called the landlord and said, ‘You know what, I’m going to take a big step. “”

Harris’ big milestone was opening the Sneak Diss sneaker store in April 2021. The store buys, sells, and offers trades on high-end sneakers such as Air Jordans, Nikes, Adidas, and other top brands from shoes.

The concept may seem strange to many people who aren’t involved in what Harris calls “sneaker culture.”

Harris, who said he has about 160 pairs of sneakers in his personal shoe collection at home, compared the sneaker market to the stock market.

“I’m basically trying to make them understand that this is a resale store,” he said. “It’s actually like stocks. One month the shoe may be high and hot, come back a few months later and it may be broken.

The inspiration behind Sneak Diss comes from successful sneaker shops such as Flight Club in New York. Flight Club recently merged with parent company GOAT, which runs a similar business but without a physical store, catering to an online audience.

According to Sportico, a website that analyzes finance in sports, GOAT Group, the holding company of the two, was recently valued at $3.7 billion at the end of 2021.

Harris also mentioned smaller companies such as Request Sneaker Boutique in North Carolina, which has branched out to multiple cities, as well as Kicks Booming in Richmond, both of which have established successful track records for people like Harris wanting to open their own sneaker shops.

Stores typically open with a mix of new and used shoes and allow customers to come in and exchange their shoes for store credit, or even just for a clean exchange for another shoe.

For a shoe to be brought to the store, it has to be in great condition and show barely any signs of use – which Harris says isn’t all that uncommon, since a lot of people don’t wear their shoes enough. precious shoes. to beat them.

Boutiques are also watching for upcoming shoe releases, often on Saturday mornings, and buying the shoes to resell in their own stores if the sneaker hype drives up demand.

A recent example of a shoe that had great resale value is the Air Jordan 11 in the “Cool Gray” colorway, which retailed in December for $225. On the resale market, the shoe costs between $350 and $400.

Shoe colorway refers to the colors used on the shoe. The Air Jordan 11’s Cool Gray colourway dons the shoe in a Light Gray upper, with White hits on the midsole. Other notable colorways for Air Jordans are ‘Bred’, which refers to Air Jordans decked out in black and red, from Michael Jordan’s days as the Chicago Bull. Another example is the “UNC” colorway, which pays homage to Jordan’s days at the University of North Carolina and covers the shoes in baby blue and white.

Just like other companies, the demand for the shoe dictates the price, but the hype surrounding the shoe is also a factor. Shoes get more hype if they’re celebrity-endorsed, like Kanye West’s line of Yeezy sneakers with Adidas, or are original colorways of the shoe, like the Air Jordan 11’s “Cool Grey” colorway.

There are other ways the shoes are getting more high profile, like the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, which drove up the resale price of all his iconic sneakers sold by Nike.

There are also often extremely limited quantities of shoes, which makes more people want to get their hands on them, sometimes pushing the shoe’s resale value into the four-figure range.

For Harris, the love of shoes has always been there, but it wasn’t until recently that he saw himself opening the shop.

“Most people think it’s because of (Michael) Jordan,” Harris said, “but my shoe love comes from Magic Johnson. He was my favorite player, so I had to wear those purple and yellow Converses to be like him.

“I would carry newspapers and cut the grass all summer so that when school started I could have enough pairs to look cool.”

Harris said when he decided to open a store in Central Virginia, Lynchburg immediately jumped off the map due to its younger population, thanks to the many colleges in the area.

“High-priced shoes don’t go well here,” he said, “I’ll be honest with you…a lot of these kids are going to college, or some are still in high school. It’s hard for them to fetch the high-priced shoe.

Harris said he didn’t really sell many “grails,” so-called because of their rarity. Grails are often the most expensive or coolest shoe in someone’s collection.

Selling shoes in the mid-price range works in Lynchburg because shoppers can look cool without breaking the bank, he said. But he always gets funny looks from parents or grandparents walking into the store with a younger person looking to buy some new shoes.

Harris said he doesn’t haggle over prices, but likes to give someone a giveaway on the shoe.

“If you want a shoe for $250 and I want to resell it for more, we’ll draw lots. Heads and tails, if you win, I’ll pay your price, but we’re not losing much here,” he said.

While Harris is only a year old in business, he is already planning to expand and is even considering other cities near central Virginia, such as Charlottesville.

When he decided to launch the store, he built it with around 600 pairs of sneakers.

“Now it’s hard to keep every spot filled on those shelves,” he said.

“He’s a man who feels good, working in the community and making people recognize our logo on a t-shirt, or when you see a kid walk into the store and say he saw you on social media or something,” Harris said. .

“As a black business owner and small business owner, I take this with great pride. There are a lot of people who are in the same boat as me who inspired me to move forward with this, but I left a lot behind and I’m not nervous at all.

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