Detroit’s crazy love for sneakers places the region front and center with shoe aficionados nationally.
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At the Burn Rubber Sneaker Boutique in Royal Oak, manager Azriel “AZ” Gilmore juggled customers’ requests for sizes and colors of shoes in the store, and a barrage of phone calls about the latest anticipated sneaker to hit the market in late February. Some customers called twice.
For about a month before the Nike LeBron X Cork reached the store, employees fielded 50 to 200 calls about the shoe a day. “That’s typical for an anticipated shoe,” says Gilmore, 32.
The exclusive $250 shoe made of cork was inspired by LeBron James’ NBA championship win last year with the Miami Heat—and the corks that popped from champagne bottles during the celebration.
Sneaker aficionados had a celebration of their own as the latest unique design hit stores Feb. 23: Each pair already accounted for before the official start of sales. Last summer, customers flocked to Burn Rubber for the Air Yeezy II, a Nike shoe designed by rapper and producer Kanye West and released last June.
The popularity of athletic shoes has evolved into a full-blown culture of its own, and Detroit is in the center of it. With Bob’s Classic Kicks, a sneaker boutique in Detroit’s Midtown district, the bevy of local sneaker customization artists, Burn Rubber and a legion of sneaker fans, Detroit is becoming the capital of sneaker culture.
The stores—with barbershop-like atmospheres that attract professional athletes such as Detroit Tigers’ Prince Fielder and have caught the eye of A-list hip-hop artists and athletes like Jay-Z and Detroit emcees such as Big Sean—are what Burn Rubber co-owner Rick Williams calls “the early adopters.” He explains, “We’re the people that are ahead of the curve and, by the time they get to the Foot Lockers and the Finish Lines, we’re pretty much done with it.”