BOB’S CLASSIC KICKS: Sneakerhead Temple
By Eric Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
Bob’s Classic Kicks is a study in contrast and combinations. It’s a sneaker boutique that could only have been conceived without the obstruction of a corporate formula. The pairing of the old school and the new; the splashes of paint alongside the rows of ‘sneaks’; and the national line of products competing with the local designer, are all brought together seamlessly in one room.
Set under lofty ceilings on the corner of Woodward and Forest, Bob’s Classic Kicks is the culmination of Jason Johnson’s long-time desire to open a downtown Detroit sneaker shop for the real ‘sneakerheads’ like himself. Open for nearly two years now, a shoe representative encouraged Johnson to make the shop unique and reflective of himself.
“He said don’t do what a lot of sneaker stores do and follow the trend,” Johnson said. “He encouraged me to do me. That’s why it doesn’t look like Foot Locker. It looks more like a living room.”
Being an economics student at Wayne State, Johnson has plenty of friendly ties to the campus and to other students and artists in the area. Thanks to friends at the Center for Creative Studies, there is a mural that reflects, abstractly, the spirit and body of Detroit. Efforts by students and local designers make up a large portion of the T-shirts found on the clothing racks at ‘Bob’s’.
But at the crux of the operation are the ‘sneaks’.
Johnson found that the larger companies were usually timid about dealing with an operation in Detroit that didn’t already have an established name.
“We had this space and didn’t get sneakers for three months, from anybody”, says Johnson. “These companies are so used to dealing with the big chains. So to be a mom and pop and just do sneakers – it’s very difficult. But through fast talking, and praying, I was able to get the stuff in here.”
Part of Johnson’s vision and trust in the concept came from what he saw as a lack of a specific type of product, especially in the Wayne State campus part of downtown.
“I was a guy with an idea that I wanted to bring something to the city that was unique and I knew we didn’t have a ‘sneaker store’. We have the ‘Athlete’s Foot’, but those are chains are created for a certain market, and they capitalize off that market. A ‘sneakerhead shop’ is a shop that is for guys that just love sneakers, period. We have an array of hard to find, boutique-style sneakers. A lot of sneakers that you see on this wall you’re not going to find in Foot Locker. I get the hard to find sneakers that won’t be in Detroit. They may be in California, in New York, in those shops.”
The real turning point for Johnson was establishing himself with the larger sneaker brokers that he needed to showcase the selection of footwear he wanted. After months of persistence and leg work, he landed the highly sought after Nike account. The behemoth shoe company was initially skeptical about committing to a smaller outlet in the downtown Detroit area, but Johnson drew up a proposal for Nike and was persistent in getting it on to the desk of the regional manager.
He also had Wayne State put together a development packet indicating the demographic breakdown and other economic indicators of the area.
“I emailed him every single day – more than twice a day sometimes”, remembers Johnson. Right before Super Bowl Forty, held in Detroit, Bob’s Classic Kicks was paid a visit by a group of Nike reps, who gave the store an impromptu appraisal. Several weeks later, a contract was signed and today you can find Nike dunk lows and highs along with the Airmax and newer throwback styles. You’ll also find a selection of Reeboks, Adidas, Gola and Medium brands whose shoes range from workout to ‘lifestyle’. Now Johnson was closer to showcasing the types of shoes he always envisioned.
In order to increase the store’s profile in the neighborhood, Bob’s Classic Kicks has sponsored several sneaker events that were combined industry showcase, art gallery opening and hip-hop party. On April 13th, Bob’s will host ‘Sneak Peak 2’, where artists and designers will decorate footwear. Graffiti artist Crash will be one of the guest artists in attendance donating time and designs.
The Cranbrook academy of Art 7th Annual Chair Show was also on display at Bob’s Kicks March 16th to the 20th. In order to secure one of the hottest storefront locations in the midtown area, Jason Johnson had to rely on personality, patience and desire to win out over the big dogs who were sniffing around the same corner.
For those ‘sneakheads’ who worship footwear as an art form, your temple awaits you at Woodward and Forest.
Go check out Jason Johnson and his father Donald Johnson at Bob’s Classic Kicks located at 4717 Woodward. Open Mon-Sat, 12:00-7:00 or Sunday 12:00-6:00. You can call Bob’s at 313-832-7513.