Sneaker culture has experienced a strange transformation over the past ten years. It’s rather ubiquitous these days, thanks largely to the internet; online stores and reselling platforms like eBay, Grailed and depop have made it possible for anyone to get involved in the game, wherever they might be, and Instagram has transformed a previously niche, clandestine subculture into a global phenomenon where kids from tiny rural towns have amassed collections to compete with any seasoned OG.
In this context, it’s easy to forget where sneaker culture was born; in the cities. Sneakers are a way of making a statement when you walk out on the streets every morning, inherently connected to the very concrete we walk on. It’s because of this that, even in the digital age, some of the rarest and most coveted sneakers can still only be found in real life sneaker stores. When it comes to this, nobody quite does it like New York City.
From exclusive boutiques, to global flagships, to resale consignment stores, there’s really nothing quite like the Big Apple for sneakerheads. Here’s some of the places you shouldn't pass up.
Flight Club NYC
Best to start off with New York’s sneaker Mecca. Arguably the most famous sneaker consignment store in the world, Flight Club has established itself as the absolute authority on rare and collectable sneakers over the last decade. Their unparalleled reputation in the sneaker community and immaculate presentation mean they’re never short on rarities and grails, and though their prices are naturally steeper than you’d see in a typical retailer, true heads are willing to pay if it means getting hold of a shoe that’s eluded them for weeks, months or even years. Name another store that could answer the question, ‘Do you have Jordans?’ 1s? 2s? 3s? 4s?...’ I’ll name it for you: Flight Club Los Angeles.
233 Flatbush Ave
If Flight Club is the place where long lost legends of sneaker culture appear out of nowhere, then KITH is a place where many contemporary drops become legendary themselves, thanks to its founder Ronnie Fieg. Known worldwide as the creator of instant sell-out sneaker collaborations with the likes of ASICS and adidas Originals, it’s the KITH retail stores that make Fieg New York streetwear royalty. The most recent store to open in Fieg’s streetwear empire, KITH’s Brooklyn location, truly has to be experienced in person.
Boasting 3000-square feet of floor space with an interior designed by contemporary artist Daniel Arsham’s company Snarkitecture — complete with a ceiling-installation of 700 molds of Air Jordan IIs — and obviously decked out with all the latest and greatest sneakers and brands, KITH is an exercise in sneaker store opulence. No surprise that it won the Gold prize for best store of 2016 in Highsnobiety’s Crowns Awards last year, then.
64 Bleecker St
Located just round KITH’s first store on Broadway, KITH Women is exactly what it says; a sneaker and streetwear store exclusive for women. Over the past few years, the women’s sneaker business has grown and grown, with brands and retailers alike slowly catching up to a demand that’s been unsatisfied for a long time. This isn’t a corner in the back of the store or a temporary concession stand, however. Like all of Fieg’s projects, no half-measures; this is the real deal. Expect all the hottest models in smaller sizes as well as a range of women’s streetwear apparel, curated by one of New York’s authorities. Ladies, take a trip knowing you won’t hear that frustrating phrase, “Sorry, they don’t go down to that size.” Guys, shop for that anniversary gift knowing you’re copping heat. Just make sure you check her size beforehand.
125 Orchard St
Situated a stones throw from the former location of Alife’s iconic Rivington Club boutique, the Extra Butter team understand what it takes for a New York retailer to achieve greatness; a solid product selection, stunning presentation and a slew of collaborative product and store exclusives. Offering an impressive range of the latest releases, presented alongside a roster of independent apparel brands that takes you back to the golden era of early-00s streetwear, there’s something about Extra Butter that brings the nostalgia to a culture that’s often dominated by trends and the latest hype release. Round that off with numerous collaborations with real “sneakerhead’s sneaker brands” like Saucony, Reebok and ASICS, and it’s easy to see how they’ve cracked the formula and then some. The hype will come and go; this one’s for the culture.
274 Lafayette St
Okay, you know it, I know it, we all know it, but who’s going to write a guide to New York sneaker stores without mentioning the place that basically created the SB Dunk hype? As much a streetwear rite of passage, tourist destination and cultural landmark as a store, if you happen to be in town on a sneaker collaboration launch day, you’ll no doubt want to stop by Supreme just to see what real sneaker hype looks like, but I’m gonna level with you here; you’re probably not going to be able to get a pair of whatever’s selling out that day.
It’s this which makes Supreme a strange one on this list; any other day of the week, their footwear offering is just straight-up skate shoes, and how many of those they actually sell is debatable, but for a few days every season Lafayette street is swamped with camping chairs and Bape camo as people try their luck at getting hold of a pair of collaborative shoes graced with a box logo detail. Love it, hate it (or get in the resell game and profit off it), it’s how it is. Have fun, and remember: nobody looks cool fighting over a pair of shoes.
147 West 72nd St
Putting the brick in “brick & mortar” the West NYC store on the Upper West Side has a certain homely, old-school New York feel to it. Exposed brick walls, classic 20th century advertising on the walls and a pure American sportswear aesthetic makes West feel like the mom and pop of the sneaker world — which is apt when you consider that founder Lester Wasserman’s father is himself the proprietor of a New York footwear store, albeit one less of the sneakerhead variety.
Don’t get it twisted, though. West is undoubtedly one of New York sneaker culture’s heavy hitters, stocking all of the top-tier collaborations, collaborating with virtually every brand in the game, and doing it all with a down-to-earth, homemade atmosphere that is quite rare in today’s hyper-contemporary retail landscape.
Stadium Goods / Stadium Goods Market Center
47 Howard St / 305 Canal St
Arriving on the already-crowded New York sneaker consignment scene only a few years ago, the guys behind Stadium Goods knew they’d have to be pretty impressive if they wanted things to last. Fortunately store founders, Yu-Ming Wu, John McPheters and Jed Stiller have impressive backgrounds in media, sneaker e-commerce, and hospitality respectively, and they definitely put their expertise to work on this particular project. As a consignment store for the modern market, expect to find a selection of sneakers you couldn’t walk in and buy anywhere else, and all in pristine condition. And if you’re looking to sell rather than buy? Not a problem, head into their Market Center via the Canal St. entrance for an elevated consignment service.
6 East 57th St
It’s true, you can probably find a pair of Nikes on every street in every major city, but it’s a totally different experience when you step through the door, and into their world, and Niketown New York is certainly an experience; so much so that it attracts just as many tourists as it does customers. Five floors of Nike sneakers and apparel, separated by sport, staffed by some of the best-trained shop workers you’ll probably find in the sneaker world. As you might expect, it’s a bit more pedestrian than some of the true sneaker culture boutiques in this list, but every so often a certain sneaker release comes along and the Nike flagship makes national news.
DQM Vans General Store
93 Grand St
Starting out as an independent skate brand called Dave’s Quality Meat, DQM is an authentic skate brand at its core, with an in-house apparel brand creating some of the best, understated everyday clothing New York has to offer — when I first got into streetwear, DQM had a reputation as a less-hyped Supreme with better prices. The brand’s occasional forays into sneakers left a considerable mark, the most notable being their iconic 2004 Air Max 90 "Bacon" model.
You’re not a true sneakerhead until you’ve tried (and failed) to get your hands on a pair of these. A lot has changed since those days, with DQM moving to its new Grand Street location in collaboration with Vans. As a result, don’t expect to see other brands, but if you’re a fan of timeless skate footwear design, you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven.
Dover Street Market
160 Lexington Ave
As anyone familiar with COMME of the GARÇONS and the DSM empire knows, Dover Street Market is a high fashion store first and foremost, boasting a brand roster of every must-have label in style right now, alongside countless other niche ones exclusive to the store. In recent years, however, the iconic department store has made impressive moves in the sneaker space, stocking many of Nike's most covettable releases and collaborations (including, of course, CDG collabs exclusive to the store), as well as high-end footwear from the likes of Common Projects, Undercover and Raf Simons. Bring a credit card (and a good credit score).
225 Hudson St
Founded 20 years ago in Cambridge Massachusetts, Concepts has reached veritable OG status, and over the past decade or so they’ve really made a mark on the landscape with their distinct perspective. Part Bostonian brashness, part Ivy League class, when Concepts does a collaboration it’s always ostentatious, elaborate and immaculately presented. The same is true of the shop's brand list, mixing Nike, adidas and New Balance with Y-3, YEEZY and visvim. Toward the end of 2015, the store expanded into a second location in New York, kicking things off with an ASICS "Boston Tea Party" collaboration that saw the whole store decked out to replicate the synonymous historic moment in American history. I’ll say it again — ostentatious.
115 Spring St
Though the Three Stripes' legacy in contemporary sport and sneaker culture stretches back almost half a century, in recent years the German sportswear brand has dominated streetwear conversations, thanks to hyped releases like the Ultra Boost and NMD, as well as a certain hyper-hype collaboration with a particular rapper-cum-fashion designer from Chicago. Say no more. Last year adidas solidified this takeover by opening a slew of new flagship stores in the world’s fashion capitals, and the New York location is particularly impressive. As you might expect, this is the place to be if you want to stand a chance of getting hold of one of the brand’s coveted new releases, though you’re advised to register with their Confirmed app beforehand. Good luck.
21 Mercer St
Comparable to the brand’s 1948 location in London, 21 Mercer is a Nike store with a twist, bringing an elevated boutique-inspired touch to the biggest sportswear brand in the world. As well as stocking the Nike Sportswear (NSW) line in full, the store also offers a NikeiD service where you can customize your kicks in-store, and the full roster of coveted NikeLab product — the pinnacle of hyped swoosh product.
Now read an interview with Supreme’s OG store manager on what the shop was like back in the day.