Sneaker Heads Cultivate Community Around High-End Footwear
How sneaker boutiques Kicking it and Sneaker Politics bring shoe lovers together to talk streetwear, sports and more
Words and photos by Bryan C. Parker
Inside Kicking It, a stylish sneaker boutique in the Domain NORTHSIDE, rows of shoes pop with vibrant colors, standing out against the store’s clean white walls and shelving. Royal blue tables and a sky blue stained concrete floor echo the brand’s minimalist blue and white logo.
Sneakers here come from a variety of brands like Nike, Saucony and New Balance, and cost anywhere from $40 to $270, with some selling out the moment they’re released.
Greg Grovey, founder and owner of Kicking It, marks the eras of his life in sneakers. He was in the sixth grade the first time he saw a pair of Jordan 13s, the shoe that changed his life forever. Grovey remembers counting the exact number of dots on the shoe’s side and studying the hologram that sits on the ankle.
“You get your beginning of the school year pair, your Christmas pair, and maybe a super cheap summer pair,” he explains, further proof that his calendar runs on footwear. The Jordan 13 spurred Grovey’s obsession with shoes, but he says all white Nike Air Force 1s will always be his favorite shoe and remain a classic today. “It’s the perfect shoe to dress up, or dress down; it easily goes with any outfit,” Grovey says.
After the Duncanville, Texas, native graduated from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, he got a job working for NiceKicks.com — first writing for the site’s sneaker blog and later managing their brick-and-mortar store, which still exists today on Guadalupe St. There, he learned essential skills that directly prepared him to run his own store, which he opened in 2017.
“I learned you can’t buy just stuff you like, because you have different consumers that have different tastes and styles,” he says. “We have a really diverse clientele that we try to serve and have something for everybody.”
But Kicking It goes way beyond just accommodating customers’ particular tastes.
“We’re a sneaker social, not just a sneaker store,” Grovey says. He never wants his customers to feel pressured to buy anything, and aims for the store to be a hub for people with a common interest. “We consider it a place of refuge for people who just want to come in, talk shoes and kick it, hence the name,” he says.
On weekends, the store hosts happy hours, with a full bar and DJs spinning records, and you can grab a beer while you shop any time.
“You can come in, relax, talk to like-minded individuals about anything — shoes, sports, video games,” Grovey says. Over the years, Kicking It has also hosted food drives, coat drives, sneaker drives and school supply drives for both students and teachers. “We’re community based — that’s something we want to put at the forefront,” Grovey says. On most Sundays, Kicking It also hosts “Entrepreneur’s Corner” — an event where local businesses set up a pop-up shop in the store and sell items, from housewares to baked goods.
Sneaker Politics, a sneaker boutique located in Austin’s 2ND Street District, takes a similar approach. On the first Sunday of each month, the store hosts Shake Back Sunday, an event that features food and drinks catered by vendors in the community, along with games that allow customers to win a raffle ticket for a future sneaker release.
Keep in mind, that’s not a ticket to win the actual sneakers, just a chance to buy the sneakers. Popular releases such as the Jordan 1, for example, might have hundreds or even thousands of people enter the raffle. Historically, sneaker releases have seen massive lines wrapped around city blocks hours before the store opens. Lee Trahan, Sneaker Politics’ store manager, has seen lines of as many as 2,000 people at his store. And Grovey has seen queues start to form at 11 p.m. the night before a coveted shoe is released.
More recently, stores (and even large brands like Nike) have moved to online raffle structures, eschewing the long lines. But that has resulted in the number of entrants soaring to tens of thousands, at times. Online raffles may be more practical, but Trahan recognizes that some of the old-school magic is lost.
“[People] might have met all of their best friends waiting in line to buy sneakers,” he says of the community that rises organically while hanging around outside a store for hours. That fact makes Kicking It and Sneaker Politics’ community building all the more integral.