Never suggest to Oliver Mak, one of the minds behind Bodega, Boston’s premiere designer sneaker shop, that you’re afraid of buying limited edition things because you worry you’ll damage them.
“Where are you from? Canada? In America we destroy things,” he replies.
Sneakers are simultaneously fashion, artwork, nostalgia, cultural touchstones and functional objects. They’re meant to be worn, looked at, boasted, fondly remembered and torn apart during a fast break. And, most of all, they’re meant to be coveted.
Bodega isn’t the only store in Boston for sneakerheads, but it’s the one with the widest national and international reputation. Part of that is a from larger international product line than other Boston shops. Part of that is outreach — Bodega is currently running a pop up shop in Japan. And part of that is the store’s hip concept — the streetware store speakeasied behind a convenience store. Mak says that layout was chosen as a sneaker-like mix of form and function.
“We were focusing on limited edition product that there was not that much of — people would find us if they were interested in that type of thing. But the big factor was wanting to make a physical representation of the hunt for limited editions that hits a level of nostalgia and creates an experience rather than just selling from a box,” says Mak.
For eight years, Mak, Jay Gordon and Dan Natola have been providing that experience. You can measure their growth in the number of brands they carry. In 2006, they only carried one — their own — with a hodgepodge of DIY t-shirts. These days, it’s more than 100.
Bodega uses that size to give back to the culture that spawned the streetware movement. Between 2009 and May of this year, Bodega ran the Fourth Wall Project art gallery in Fenway (closed to make way for a Wahlburgers). With the Walsh administration, Mak has high hopes for simplifying the regulatory environment for venues to host live music and art. It makes sense; the Bodega partners’ pre-sneaker résumé includes a charity to help graffiti artists in legal trouble and assisting one of the oldest bboy crews in the world.
“Counter culture is a very specific market,” Mak says. “People who have longevity in it are active participants and creators of it.”