July 13, 2015/ / ARTICLES/ Comments: 48

jenk local_shop

Summertime is officially here! You can already hear the sounds of kids trembling in their desks at summer school, thinking more about quarterpipes than quadratic equations. It’s time to break out all of those shaped boards, limited collab sneakers and goofy-looking hats and hit the streets!

Remember, though, when you’re thinking about what your new summer kit is going to look like you should consider buying gear from your local shop first.

Yes, the internet is full of deals and massive clearance warehouses, but the local skate shop is still a lynchpin in skate culture that we can’t afford to lose.

It’s tempting (and really easy, I know) to click on that “30% Everything Must Go” email from a big Inland Empire warehouse with a fancy website. But that warehouse really isn’t interested in skateboarding unless you’re giving them your credit card info and signing up for their mailing list. Without core shops, skateboarding is just another vertical for sporting goods stores – no sense of community remains.

pat smith / photo: jonathan mehring

pat smith / photo: jonathan mehring

Pat Smith, owner of Coda Skateboards, pointed out that where big business meets the skate industry, failure is common.

“CCS and Foot Locker are doing ok, aren’t they? Oh wait, they’re not,” he wrote in an email.

In 2008, Foot Locker bought CCS and tried to expand the mailorder operation into a mall chain. The plan tanked, and CCS nearly disappeared into oblivion before being rescued by a buyout from Daddies Board Shop in Portland, Oregon.

Pat Smith also skates for Pitcrew, a shop in Frederick, Maryland, famous for its longevity as much as it is for its iconic hoodies. The shop, which serves a massive area including DC, Baltimore and Southern Pennsylvania, has been going strong since 1994. He said there’s a level of personal connection between shop owners and skateboarding that can’t be replaced.

“Pitcrew has been around [so long] because skateboarding is important to them,” Smith said. “When core shops go, there will not be skateboarding. Just some team sport with a piece of wood and plastic wheels.”

Without the support of core skate shops, skateboarding would consist only of those brands with the money and infrastructure to fulfill giant chain-store orders. Sure, maybe a smaller brand can pick up the occasional $100,000 preorder from a chain store if it’s already in demand, but it’s difficult to get much demand without some sort of grassroots hype. The scary end-result of this system would be the winnowing of skate companies to only the brands big enough to have their logos on boards at Wal-Mart and Sports Authority.

Bobby Worrest working at Pitcrew like it's 2004. photo: Oliver Barton

Bobby Worrest working at Pitcrew like it’s 2004. photo: Oliver Barton

Gary Smith, owner of Vu Skateshop in Baltimore, Maryland, has seen the shifts in the industry from both sides. He experienced the early-00s boom in professional skating, and his shop weathered the recession in the US since 2008. But he’s not all doom-and-gloom about the state of the skate industry.

Skateboarding is shrinking similarly to the way it did in the early 90s, he told me, but with a significant difference: it’s now socially acceptable. Add to that the growing diversity in the skate community and the democratizing effect of the internet, and you can see that skateboarding has a long way to go before it “dies” again.

”Skateboarding has a long way to go before it ‘dies’ again”

“I do see the same trends unfolding again. We had a surge in skater-owned companies breaking away from ‘huge’ companies like Powell and Vision and doing their own brands like Blind, Menace, 101 & many other amazing companies,” he said. “Now pros are doing it all over again: leaving their long time sponsors and starting brands like 3D, Mother, and Fucking Awesome just to name a few. I love it.”

a kid shops for a board from vu skateshop

a kid shops for a board from vu skateshop

But as someone who was a part of the skate industry when pro skaters earned less than your average McDonalds employee and were expected to give it up by their early 20s, he doesn’t begrudge the industry’s need to grow. If skate companies are going to be expected to provide a salary and benefits in addition to product and travel, they have to make hard decisions about their business model.

“I’d love to put all the blame on the companies who sell products to the mall & internet chains, but I can’t, you know why? You got to sell out to eat out,” he said. “If I owned a board company and my local shop picked up 5 decks, we aren’t going to be able to afford ads and to go to China to film a video. But if the mall and internet chain picked up 5,000 decks then we can film a video, pay the team, and eat good. I get it.”

”The small skater owned companies like Politic, Scumco and all the Theories brands are helping shops like mine separate ourselves from the mall chain stores”

He said the new wave of independent brands and small upstarts is helping to change the business landscape in favor of the local. Like record stores and other boutique businesses, a skate shop can create an identity by choosing to support specific brands (and by supporting local and regional brands that in turn support more local and regional skaters).

“The small skater owned companies like Politic, Scumco and all the Theories brands are helping shops like mine separate ourselves from the mall chain stores,” he said. “I hope we can all eat out together.”

Gary Smith airing over kids at the summer skate camp he runs through Vu Skateshop

Gary Smith airing over kids at the summer skate camp he runs through Vu Skateshop

But we’re not just talking business here, core shops offer their locals a tangible connection to the skate community at large. Sure, skate videos these days are announced via hashtag and watched on YouTube and the SLAP Forum has become a global couch on which skaters can share clips and talk shit to each other, but the skate shop is the place where little kids learn how to act (and how not to act) on a skateboard.

“Without a true local shop, you’ve got kids just being reared by malls and what they read online about skating.”

Example: Baker2G was a rad video, but it helped inspire a bunch of screaming suburban jerk-offs who did their damnedest to ruin every session for everyone. If it weren’t for the older dudes at the shops and skateparks, who else would tell all the Knox Godoy wannabes to chill out? Who would encourage kids to respect skate spots, act cool to keep security or cops pacified, and not spit on the ground in the middle of the goddamn skatepark? Certainly not the guy at Pacsun who “used to skate” for a semester in junior high. Certainly not streetwear chain dot com.

Chris Bacon, who manages Edge of the World (formerly Board of Missoula) in Missoula, Montana, knows this first-hand. Missoula has a population of about 100,000 people and a very tight-knit skate scene, which Bacon has been instrumental in developing since he started working at Board of Missoula in the early 90s.

“Our state has lots of Native American Reservations, tiny farming and ranching towns, and tons of space in between everything. Our role as shops is not only to foster the skate scene by trying to connect skaters from all these small towns and rural areas, but also to show them what a great tool skateboarding can be,” he said. Bacon said that has had a positive effect for a lot of Montanan kids, who, due to the size of the state, can easily feel isolated.

“Without our shops, I honestly don’t think as many kids would make it out of ‘The Hometown Trap’ that we have all seen happen.”

“There is a big tendency to get tied up in the bad stuff out here; 6 months of winter coupled with poor economics and large distances make it real inviting to go down some dark paths. Most of the kids that have discovered skateboarding have used it to help keep them sane during the winter months and helped grow their sense of self esteem and self confidence,” he said. “Without our shops, I honestly don’t think as many kids would make it out of ‘The Hometown Trap’ that we have all seen happen.”

“Shops have a way of becoming the meeting place and the sounding board for a communities scene. The shop isn’t just a retail outlet; it’s a meeting of the minds… of like minds. Having a good shop in your town gives the skaters a chance to really feel like they are part of the skateboard industry, not just on the outside looking in.”

the mini ramp at orchard skateshop in boston

the mini ramp at orchard skateshop in boston

Gary Smith says it can be frustrating to watch business slip away to big-box retailers, but he’s got a good method for showing the locals how important his shop is to the scene. “Kids come in the shop all the time with decks, wheels, etcetera, that they got online or the mall, and then skate our free ramp. It kills me because we carry the same shit these kids come in skating. I tell them to go skate the malls or internets free ramp,” he said. “They look at me, puzzled.”

“Is paying a few bucks more for a pair of shoes or a deck that outrageous given all the shop has done for the scene?”

Chris Bacon says skaters need to re-identify the core skateshop as a sort of community center, rather than a place to go if you need a board in less time than it will take to ship from California.

“Without a true local shop, you’ve got kids just being reared by malls and what they read online about skating. What happens when none of these big guys put on events in your town?

Is paying a few bucks more for a pair of shoes or a deck that outrageous given all the shop has done for the scene?”

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  1. Ben

    July 15, 2015 9:15 am

    I work at a zumiez and to be honest that is the only place that deals with skateboards in my town that offered a job to me when my 3 other core shops couldn’t do that because they rather keep 2 ppl working and not hire anyone else. I hate how ppl make it seem like you have to pick a side to spend your own money and if it’s not a core shop your like not a true skater that’s gay as fuck. Majority of skaters start off as a child were they don’t rely on themselves to pay for there equipment their parents do and I hear moms and dads daily complain about how they went to the core shop and payed an outrageous price for a setup but when they see they our prices on completes they feel like they got raped by the core shop

    • Ben's Mom

      July 15, 2015 10:38 am

      Yo Ben,

      You’re obviously about 16 because you are using the words “gay as fuck” to describe something. I don’t think these core shops you speak of would “rather keep 2 ppl working and not hire anyone else.” It costs money to hire people, and as you just described, these core shops probably aren’t doing too well because they are “raping” people on the price of completes, or at least all the local “Moms and Dads” are getting told that’s the case by Ben the Zumiez employee.

      Say what you will about this article and whether it’s going to help or not. At the end of the day Skate Shops are businesses and they need to turn a profit to stay open. Jenkem is arguing that we start looking at shops as skateboard community centers instead of just a place to buy products, and maybe this point of view will help them stick around for a bit longer.

      All that being said, I live in Washington and have skated the Zumiez skatepark (which is open to the public) on more than one occasion, and it is pretty damn fun. They can’t be completely evil if they have a concrete park that anyone can skate at their headquarters, right? Right?!

  2. JonnyUtah3000

    July 15, 2015 1:32 pm

    If you have a core shop in your town or close by, please support them. They are essential to creating a community for skateboarders, a home away from home. The internet is no replacement for actual live engagement and that core shop experience. These core shops are owned by people who love and live skateboarding as much as you do. The big box stores like Zumiez are exploiting our culture as fast as they can and will exit with our money just as fast as they came. And a message to the core shops…Customer Service is paramount, regardless of the customer standing in your shop. Don’t forget that when the little groms are lurking too long or the kook standing in front your deck wall doesn’t have a clue. Be patient and polite. Educate them and guide them, but don’t be an ass about it. You might have just discovered a loyal long term customer. It’s business and they can take their money elsewhere. A little patience and guidance goes a long way.

  3. jesus

    July 15, 2015 4:09 pm

    If you don’t have a local shop or hate the guy that runs out,other local shops have websites you can buy online and you are still supporting

  4. Scotty

    July 16, 2015 5:14 pm

    What is anyone’s thoughts on Tactics? A big portion of their business is through their website, but they are based out of Eugene, OR and have a great real shop down there. It was my true local shop when I went to college down there (graduated and moved away a year ago). Great vibe, knowledgeable staff, and true supporters of the Southern Willamette Valley skate scene. Are they damned by the fact that they sell a lot of product online and carry surf/snow product as well? Or are they a better alternative to Zumiez/CCS/SoCal Skateshop for those who live in an area without a core shop? Serious question.

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