Saturday, hours before the Sixers halted history on their home hardwood, the main concourse of the Wells Fargo Center was transformed into the area’s largest shoe show.
Shoetopia, which originated in Washington, D.C. and aims to showcase the powerful, popular, and underground cultures of the sneaker game, represented Philadelphia’s largest buy, sell and trade sneaker show to date.
Dozens of vendors and hundreds of self-proclaimed "sneaker heads" ignored the Saturday showers and converged on the arena, looking to unite with those who shared the similar interest of sneakers.
The event, which is commonplace in sneaker culture, provides everyday sneaker collectors with an otherwise unavailable showcase for their collection and offers the opportunity for all in attendance to buy, sell or trade shoes that they have acquired over the years.
Understanding its potential appeal to basketball fans, the Sixers organization put their name on the event and tied the ticketing together; purchasing a ticket to the Shoetopia event granted one access to the Sixers’ game that evening against the Pistons.
“I think the Sixers definitely underestimated us,” one of the event’s organizers, Herschel Nauroz, told me over the backdrop of beats provided by an in-house DJ.
“[The Sixers] were definitely underestimating how many tickets we would sell, and how many people would show up,” Nauroz continued with a laugh before detailing the partnership between the team and the event.
“The Sixers really helped us get it out there. By putting their name on the event, it really adds to it,” he said. “In return, we helped them sell hundreds of tickets to a Sixers-Pistons game on a rainy Saturday,” he proclaimed proudly.
Nauroz wasn’t exaggerating either. An associate in the Sixers ticketing office said that between pre-order and walk-up ticket sales, the event had sold around 500 total tickets; 500 more potential people in the Wells Fargo Center stands.
The event itself was sprawling, with people spread out all over the main concourse. Some had tables, others set up shop on the floor, and others still used the covered-up ketchup and mustard dispense tables as pseudo-display stands.
Vendors varied in age and quantity of collection. Some were trying to sell single pairs, while others had dozens to distribute.
There was an older gentlemen, probably in his late forties or early fifties, although he wouldn’t tell me his exact age, tirelessly trying to sell a single pair of Nike LeBron 9s. When a pair of Nike KD VIs caught my eye and I asked "how much" to a crowd of people, unsure who the vendor was, a kid no older than 13 popped up to tell me that they were "$350, but that he was open to negotiation."
Shoetopia featured a lot of the rare footwear that you would expect to see at a shoe show in today’s sneaker climate: There were Bel-Air 5s, Diamond Dunks, Fighter Jet Foams, Concord 11s, and of course a pair of the ever-rare Air Yeezys, which was being sold for $1,450.
“They deadstock?” a guy in a grey sweat suit asked of the Yeezys, obviously trying to decide if they were worth the large chunk of change.
“Worn three times, I un-deadstocked them myself,” the shoe’s owner replied.
“$1,200,” the sweat-suited man offered after a moment of consideration.
“Nah, sorry, man. I can’t go any under $14,” the Vendor responded, turning away over a grand for the coveted kicks, confident that someone else would accept his asking price.
In this exchange, the virtue of the event was emphasized. No one has to part with anything for less than they want to, but the amount of rare, or otherwise unavailable, shoes offers opportunity for those interested in increasing their collection, or chasing their own personal white whale; otherwise known as their "grail" in sneaker-speak.
Shoetopia wasn’t just all about sneakers, however. The event also provided opportunity to entrepreneurs looking to expand. Small D.C. start-ups like Laced Up Laces and Detrapel had stands set up and were hoping that Shoetopia’s exposure would help them catch on in a new market.
“We started in D.C. and our product is carried by over 40 vendors in that area,” Noah Clark, the founder of Laced Up Laces, said. “Hopefully after today, we will catch on with some vendors up here.”
Clark certainly had the platform for his product, with a stand in front of hundreds of like-minded sneaker-enthusiasts.
After four full hours of vendors bouncing in and out of the building, balancing boxes against their chest, the event began to die down. On my way out, I asked one vendor who had been extremely active all afternoon, what was so special, or unique, about the event.
“There is nothing like this around here, man. It’s great.”
When pressed for further details he continued, “It’s great being around so many other people that are as interested in the sneaker culture as I am. Looking at all of these shoes, and hearing the stories of the people that own them; it is just a unique experience. There should be more events like it.”
The good vibes from the event carried over into the evening, where the Sixers snapped a 26-game losing streak while defeating Detroit in front of hundreds of people who spent their afternoon swapping shoes.
The sneaker community in Philadelphia is expansive, and it is growing along with the game. Shoetopia was the city’s largest sneaker show to date, but considering Shoetopia’s success on a showery Saturday, it shouldn’t be the last.