You hear calls to support your local shop from big and small skate brands, read the same calls in magazines, and see #SupportYourLocalSkateShop on Instagram. But are skate shops really struggling that much?
To try and answer that question, I spent a Saturday at NJ Skate Shop in Jersey City last fall and kept track of everyone that walked through the door and all the purchases that came out. What follows is an almost hour by hour account of a day in the life of a skate Shop.
The store on Monmouth Street is the fifth NJ Skate Shop in 16 years. Steve Leonardo and Chris Nieratko opened the first shop a little more than 30 miles away in Sayerville in 2003, stocking gear that Nieratko had accumulated during the years he worked at Big Brother magazine (and after Larry Flynt Publications acquired Big Brother, trading porn for skate product).
Today, Chris splits time between New Jersey and California, and Steve works as an elementary school teacher in Jersey City, spending weekends tending to his family and the two NJ shops. He is supported by Bill Marshall, who has alternated between a shop employee and a family member since day one, and is currently the manager of the Jersey City store.
(10:00 am – 11:00 am)
Steve and Bill arrive an hour before the shop opens to prepare for the day. As they straighten up, ex-Zoo Yorker Ron Deily stops by to say hi while running errands. Three dudes meet up and hang for a bit before piling into a car and heading to Owl’s Head Park in Brooklyn.
This morning the shop will be releasing a hyped pair of Nike Dunks designed by Nick Tershay from Diamond. “Dunks were consistent since we started in 2003,” Steve says. “You’d always sell out. People would be waiting in line at the door. But, like everything, it kinda plateaued and you really couldn’t sell them as much.” They started doing online raffles when another Diamond Dunk released in 2014, so people didn’t have to camp outside in the winter to be first in line, and they held one for this drop too.
In spite of clear directions on how to enter the raffle and win the chance to buy the shoes, the shop has already received multiple calls about whether they are for sale. The first raffle winner shows up minutes before the shop opens at 11:00 to buy his pair.
Easing into the day
(11:00 am – 1:00 pm)
The first hours at the shop are quiet. Skateboarders aren’t known for being productive before noon, and for that matter, neither are people who get excited about limited edition sneaker drops.
The first people to walk in during business hours are a father and early-teenage son with questions about a brand new complete they brought that wasn’t purchased from the shop. It rolls to one side when you kick it forward, though. Steve looks it over and assures them it’s fine and that the bushings just need to break in. They thank him and leave without buying anything.
The first hardgood sale of the day—a deck, grip, long sleeve T-shirt, and a beanie—is followed by a visit from Steve’s old student, Ivon. Some of the kids at Steve’s school know that he owns the shop, and alumni (skaters and non-skaters) will pop their heads in from time to time. They catch up outside for a few minutes.
A local named Jonel comes in with a friend and a fresh deck to buy a sheet of grip. While he puts his new board together they talk with the guys about shoe colorways, diversity in skateboarding, and the status of a skatepark in Jersey City.
The shop helped secure a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation for a new park, but the city hasn’t been able to get the rest of the money, and the grant will expire if they can’t break ground and start construction soon. “I think that’s the question I get asked the most: when is the skatepark getting built?” Bill says. “I don’t know.”
Later on a couple of Dunk rafflers come in to claim their shoes and a mom buys an 8.25″ Quasi deck that she lets her son pick out.
Locals And Lurkers
(1:00 pm – 4:00 pm)
Another carload of regulars shows up, including shop rider Silvester “El Doogie” Eduardo. Steve and Eduardo talk about Eduardo’s Gonz impression, which is convincing enough that Steve was recently fooled on a prank call to the shop.
They all chop it up, with Steve and Bill chiming in when they aren’t tending to selling Dunks or answering phone calls about them. The crew of regulars all hit the bathroom before hopping in the car and heading to Owl’s Head skatepark to meet up with earlier group that went there. Bill goes out for a smoke and Steve and Teddy catch up for a while.
The next hour is quiet. Steve and Bill unpack and hang some socks, and are occasionally punctuated by people buying Dunks. There are other shoppers too: one lurker mall grabbing a longboard and skaters who buy bearings, kingpins, and bushings. Steve orders a pizza and I grab a six-pack as a gift.
By 3:45 the pizza has come and gone, and a local named Shaggy is sitting on the bench in the middle of the shop. A lifelong resident of the Garden State and longtime shop lurker, he enthusiastically chats up everyone before sitting down with one of the free newspapers you get at a subway station.
Shaggy is a voracious reader, and alongside skating and hanging out at the Starbucks at Astor Place in Manhattan, he has made a hobby of writing letters to editors of magazines. This led to him being profiled in the New York Times in 2010.
He breaks down for me how Jersey City and some of the towns nearby have changed over the years, and moves on to the latest Thrasher after he’s finished reading the paper.
(4:00 pm – 7:00 pm)
The handful of Dunks that weren’t claimed by the raffle winners are up for sale to the general public at 4:00, and 40 minutes later they are all gone. More members of the shop family are starting to trickle in, one of them with an 18-pack. The sun is down, and with it, any pretense of skateboarding productivity for the day is gone. Beer and bullshit start to flow more freely.
There are two sales back to back. The first, a shop beanie and hoodie, go to one of the dudes lurking. The second is a Chocolate deck to someone who comes in, buys his board, and leaves without hanging out. A random, who doesn’t appear to skate, pokes around and spends most of his time looking at an Alltimers board cut to look like a stack of Oreos. Later, two dudes show up to aimlessly shop. One ends up buying seven stickers, the other buys a pair of shoes and a Vans jacket. They talk to each other but don’t talk much with anyone else.
One of the lurkers, Jenkem contributor Russell Dolan, is telling stories about working as a filmer at Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania last summer. One of Steve’s kids was a camper that season, and Steve gets the grown-up version of some stories his son came back with. Eventually, he grabs a few boxes for the New Brunswick store before calling it a night and heading home.
The two cars from Owl’s Head are back. One of the dudes has the leftover half of a chicken parm sub that he got near the skatepark and sings its praise while offering bites to nearly everyone at the shop. According to the hours posted on the door, the shop closes at 7:00. At that time, there are 13 people inside the shop, including Silvester Eduardo, who is talking shit about Bill’s recent hot streak in the dice game threes.
(according to Bill Marshall)
-Grab five dice and let each player place a bet.
-The first player rolls all five dice then sets aside at least one die to start forming their score.
-The goal is to form the lowest score. Threes count as zero, so those are the lowest dice to choose.
-The player then rolls the remaining dice and again sets aside at least one die to add to their score.
-They continue this process until they have set aside all five dice. The sum of those five dice is their score.
-Example: If at the end of a person’s turn they have these dice set aside: 2, 3, 1, 2, 4, their score is 9 (2+0+1+2+4).
-Every other player goes through this process and the person with the lowest score at the end wins the pot.
-If there is a tie, the tying players double down on their bets and play another round.
-If on any player’s first roll they roll all five dice to have the same number (like if all five dice turned up as fours) they automatically win the pot and the round starts over.
(7:00 pm – Late)
One of the tables in the shop is turned on its side as a backstop to roll dice against and Bill is bouncing back and forth between dollar hands of threes and hanging behind the counter. A group of four more lurkers comes in, bringing the total number of dudes hanging out to nearly 20.
Bill switches from a Tampa Am live stream to SK8MAFIA’s Brain Gone and dice start to hit the ground less frequently as everyone gravitates around the counter to watch the video. Stephen Lawyer’s part invites a lot of commentary—little of it positive. Javier Sarmiento, on the other hand, is showered with praise.
Threes pops off again for a bit, but when Bronze’s Trust comes on, the crew circles back to provide commentary on local spots and skaters. Speaking of local spots, after Trust ends, they cycle through Jeff DeChesare video parts trying to find a clip filmed at some nearby white five block.
As the conversation starts to drift toward making plans for the rest of the night, the shop makes its final sale for the day: a new pair of socks for one of the Owl’s Heads to change into before heading to whatever is next. Some head out for the night and others head home. For them, hanging out at the shop was their night.
All in all, it was a pretty good day for the shop. Moving a whole shipment of Dunks (or any shoe) in an afternoon is a nice chunk of cash, but the other 29 days of the month didn’t have a highly anticipated shoe drop.
“You can’t think ‘I sold 25 Diamond Dunks and we killed it, and I’m going to take all this money and run away with it.’ You have to think about all those days that you’re at zero all day, and still have to pay the guy working,” Steve explained. “There’s always rainy days, man. Literally and figuratively.”
Steve and Nieratko almost never take money from the shop. He told me it just isn’t something you make a lot of money doing. There is always new gear to order.
On the other hand, if you look at the day other than the finances, it was pretty successful. The industry heads, local skate rats, and beginners that came through are all indications of a healthy scene in Jersey City. People came to meet up before skating and hung out after. One kid with his very first board got the type of advice on his setup that you don’t get when you’re shopping on a website. It doesn’t matter that he got his deck elsewhere, because he’s stoked to skate.
The underlying mission of any shop should be to fuel their scene, and between helping to build more places to skate, contributing to charities (that help skaters and non-skaters alike), and dressing Jersey Dave up like Santa so he can hand out completes to kids in December, the guys at NJ take care of their local skateboarders. Keeping the fire burning seems to be what’s kept Steve going for the better part of two decades.
A few days prior, a scooter kid came in looking to replace a single broken skateboard bearing. “I was like, fuck, I don’t have any extra bearings, so I just opened a pack of Reds and gave him two bearings,” Steve told me. “He was like ‘Really?’ and I was like yeah, whatever, man. Go have fun.”
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June 11, 2019 1:43 pm
I grew up in NJ, but moved away many years ago. I’m glad to see NJ Skate Shop is going strong and serving the area. Small Empire was my shop back in the day. I remember the dude who owned it was always watching R-rated movies — even when the kids with their parents rolled in. I also used to hit up Psycho Skates and Premiere where Telly from KIDS worked. Out of Bounds was cool, but that’s apparently mostly a snowboard shop these days. My town (or county for that matter) didn’t have a shop, so the drive to these places was always exciting. Blasting the Wu, smoking weed, talking shit all the way. Miss those days.
June 28, 2019 12:38 am
Fucking small empire…
June 11, 2019 3:08 pm
Great article dudes
As an employee of a shop that sells specialty release dunks usually once a month, I can definitely relate to those morons calling with questions that have all been answered on our instagram… but those morons help make sure I get paid all week so..
Dice too, but we just play good ol cee-lo
June 11, 2019 3:52 pm
My local is in a small town that caters to rich hipsters every month or so with a farmer’s market, festivals, etc. Last month they had a beer and wine festival, and we happen to have a public bathroom right next door. Most of our customers just really needed to pee. Afterwards, I was heading home and saw a drunk guy fall on top of a bottle and have it shatter everywhere. I was wondering whether or not he was o, but he came back with another bottle and did the same thing in the same spot. Just a weird story I thought I would share that was related to my local shop.
June 11, 2019 5:01 pm
wish i had a real local shop