The pandemic resulted in a lot of businesses having to shutter their doors, and although the pandemic isn’t solely to blame for Orchard Skateshop closing down, it certainly didn’t help. Orchard had been a stronghold in the Boston skate scene for over a decade, and due to a lease disagreement and the subsequent mayhem of 2020, they had to pivot to online only.
That meant taking all their stock and years of accumulated memorabilia into a warehouse and operating strictly as a webshop and abandoning the retail space the locals had come to love.
That is, up until now.
They are finally back with a physical location in a prime area that’s close to iconic spots like Eggs and some more touristy stuff too. And to celebrate their grand re-opening, they passed along their latest promo clip to introduce their new team riders – Zak Papastoris and Connor Noll – to the world
We had our writer and unofficial skate shop correspondent Ian Browning hit up the people behind his old local shop to talk about their struggles during the lockdown, and what we can hope to see from Orchard now that they are back in full swing. It’s an intriguing story that hints at the resilience that skateboarding can bring out of people who have strong goals and a passion for what they do.
Q&A W/ ARMIN BACHMAN & ZAK PAPASTORIS
Can you tell me about what happened to your old shop?
Armin Bachman (owner): Basically like a week before Christmas [of 2019], we found out our new landlord wasn’t going to renew our lease. We brought a guy, Pat Donfro, on board in January to help with a lot of back-of-house stuff so I could focus on getting a new store ready.
Then the pandemic came in, and then we had to move everything out of there. Talk about a move, dude. Tearing down the bowl, you know?
Zak Papastoris (shop manager): That was a whole week of moving. Not just like casual move, absolute fucking madness, right as the world was ending in March. Like, what do we do? There was a spot lined up in Central Square, where real estate isn’t cheap, but because of the pandemic we were like, fuck, what do we do? So we just put everything in a warehouse for two years.
AB: There’s a developer I know that has a youth group, and we would do charity jams and skate with the kids. I just hit him with a Hail Mary, and one of his newest buildings like a mile down the street had a little retail space. And then across the street was an old car repair garage, which was going to be his next project. We took them both. So we moved everything—15 years of archives of cool shit—into the warehouse and just kind of waited to see where things went. We just pivoted.
Pat and I rebuilt a new website in a couple of weeks, and all of our roles changed real quick: Zack stepped up and just became the warehouse manager. Running a skate shop is like skating. You don’t know how to fucking do it. You just figure it out. We just figured out what we had to set up a fully-online business.
Pat had some experience working for an e-commerce spot, and he was able to help steer the ship with back-end computer stuff. Zach fucking took on the beast role of managing the warehouse: putting away everything that’s coming in, making sure we got all the shipping supplies. We just did our best to adapt and keep it moving. We’re lucky to have the crew that we have. There’s no way we’d still be rolling without them.
What was it like to suddenly operate a shop 100% digitally for a year?
ZP: It’s hard to explain how to get a complete through an email, that’s for damn sure. You’re in the store every day talking to people, and you know how to talk to people about everything they want to get, but online it was so weird adjusting to not having that. We all come from customer service backgrounds, and working in the warehouse was probably the first time I’ve ever been away from people in a work setting. It’s a crazy change from seeing a few hundred people a weekend to just seeing Armin and Pat every day for a year and a half.
Did the kids still find a way to hit you up for drop-offs?
AB: They would. It was tricky because—we can say now because we’re out—the building was slated for development, so we couldn’t get permits and occupancy and shouldn’t have been operating there. We just tried to play it as low-key as possible. Homies would call me to come by and pick stuff up, and it was tough. We had to tell them to go meet over at the other storefront we were renting. It almost felt like a drug deal every time someone’s coming to pick up an order when we’d go over to the storefront with paper over the windows.
ZP: [Sketchy coke dealer voice] Just call the number and we’ll send a guy out.
You guys just opened up a new physical shop, does this mean it’s back to business as usual?
AB: Since we changed everything over to being online only, we’ve been really fortunate that it’s working. 2021 was our best year ever as a shop, which is amazing. We really owe that to all of our customers that we’ve had over the years. But we’d be stupid if we just went back to exactly how we were before, putting all of our eggs into the brick and mortar basket. We wanted to figure out a way to keep this online thing going, have space for the inventory that we need for that kind of selection, but then still have brick and mortar for in person, in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The space just has tons of character and it’s small. My biggest worry for being a shop that’s been around for 16 years is that a lot of people have expectations after the amazing store that we were blessed to have in the past – with the bowl, the gallery upstairs, and a little hidden vintage shop. In the world we’re living in now, that kind of space is going to be tough to come by. But for what we lost from a big experiential space in a neighborhood that was hard to get to, we found something that’s got everything that you need, right in the mix. We’ll be able to help people shop online and if what they want is right there in front of them, we can help them shop the full selection, find the size or color they’re looking for, and ship it out for free.
“For years I’ve been pushing other shop owners to remember that we’re fucking skate shops. We can make money on skateboards, wheels, and trucks … rather than constantly chasing trends.”
2021 was the best year for the shop?
AB: Yeah. I think 2015 or ‘16 were our worst years ever. We pivoted back to having just one shop, tightened up our belt, and knew cash flow was going to be tight for a bit. My two shop partners stepped aside around that time, and we spent ‘17 to ‘18 just trying to do more with less, sticking and moving, putting all the money back into the biz, getting more product in there, and rebuilding with all of our focus on hardgoods and pure skateboarding. Things were growing slowly and steadily for a few years, and then came the pandemic.
Even with the major shortage in the first months of the pandemic, we were able to keep gas in the tank and serve the scene. A lot of that has to do with how we’ve been operating the last few years and being super lean, and just investing everything back in the product and what’s going on locally. Cash flow was strong enough and we would just max out whatever we could get when product was available. There was definitely a trend of a lot of new skaters coming in ’18 and ’19, and we’re grateful that they continued to support us when things got wild and also spread the word to all the new skaters that came to us for their COVID completes.
For years I’ve been pushing other shop owners to remember that we’re fucking skate shops. we can make money on skateboards, wheels, and trucks and invest in that part of the business rather than constantly chasing just the soft goods and whatever trends. You never know what’s gonna work with that stuff, and then you get jammed up with the shoe bills, and you don’t have all the hardgoods that you should have. We invested in the scene and made sure we had all the best hardgoods you could want.
Do you think that the 2020 bubble has popped at all?
AB: Some things have slowed a little bit the last few months, but we’re not necessarily selling fewer decks than we were, just they moved more quickly before. The early COVID big boom of new skaters, combined with a shortage, changed up the way that everybody ordered. Boards and hardgoods weren’t something that you ordered ahead of time, but with shortages we had to start committing to orders a year ahead of time. Then last summer and fall, some brands were shipping three seasons of prebooked hardgoods within two weeks of each other that we had ordered anywhere from six to twelve months prior. Our outlook is positive and we’re hoping for things to stabilize and readjust.
These are interesting times for sure. A lot of things have changed, but in Boston and in New England, the skate scene is stronger than ever. Two years without a physical shop is a long time, especially when you’re a young skater just figuring things out. There’s this one kid that we’ve been helping out with product here and there. He pretty much got his first board as COVID complete, and now he’s out in the streets filming tricks for a farm team project we’re working on as well. The next generation is coming in hot! Skating is a cycle of life—there’s always gonna be more people getting into it and coming up. Hopefully, we’re gonna be here to support them!
“Skating is a cycle of life—there’s always gonna be more people getting into it and coming up.”
The shop has always been pretty good about putting videos out, but did losing the personal connection of seeing people come through the shop every day change your motivation to film at all?
AB: Maybe in some kind of sense. We just wanted to be able to connect with people in some way since we’re not able to see them in person. Part of our mission is to showcase Boston and New England skaters and try to get it out there. Some amazing skaters have come from our area, and I think our team is one of the most rippingest teams out there. It’s got skaters for all different types of styles, but it’s all pretty cohesive. Everybody’s homies and our process of adding new team riders is fully democratic, so someone gets brought to the mix and the team votes. Everybody’s been super psyched on Zack for years, and just been slowly working on getting to this point of joining the team. Pandemic life being weird makes it tricky to film, but I think it’s a little more of a psychology tweak.
ZP: At the beginning of the pandemic it was actually a lot easier to film because people were so damn scared that no one was out. So we were able to skate these spots that you’d normally get kicked out of. While we were moving to the store, we had a little more free time, and then it got way harder to film because it was like, oh, shit, we have a lot more work to do. It went from being kind of casual, getting clips every day, to being back to weekend warrior shit.
What’s next for the shop?
AB: Video-wise, you got this clip, and we’ve got a really exciting project that we’re producing that should be coming out in the next few weeks. I don’t want to speak too much about it, but it’s a skate clip with some editorial, dealing with pretty personal stuff from a team rider. I’m really excited to get that out there. Later in the spring and summer, Lee Madden is putting out this slightly-longer project we’ve been working on for a bit.
Then hopefully save to travel and do some more trips with the team, make some more videos, see everybody in person changing their bearings. We’ve been able to build a good relationship with the people that run the courts over in Chinatown, and last summer we brought a bunch of ramps out for skate jams, and we just kind of left them there with loose permission from the volleyball groups that manage it. We’re gonna keep building on that this year and get some more impromptu skate objects over there like Leif Hague’s “Tempos” installation, and hopefully find a new spot where we can start doing more video premieres and in-person events. Excited to start feeling almost normal again!
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