$330 Sneakers? Maybe.

A fascinating article in GQ today examined the current alarming status of the sneaker market.

That’s right– tennis shoes, gym shoes, kicks– whatever you call ’em, the market is booming. And not just for new items, either. The after-sale market is presently valued at $2 billion, with the ath-leisure market expected to be worth $83 billion by the year 2020, according to some analysts.

In the early 1980’s the footwear trend hit my hometown, a suburb of Detroit. And I had to have them. All I had to do was convince my parents that the $40 price tag was worthwhile. It wouldn’t be easy– we’d never spent more than $25 on shoes, and those were dress shoes. My parents scoffed at the idea.

Today, a $40 pair of quality sneakers can be near impossible to find.

After Christmas this year, our family decided to have a ‘stay-cation’ in Chicago. Since we live here, we often don’t do the touristy things, so once every year, we try to be tourists for a day or so. We visit museums and eat pizza and drink too much coffee.

As a special treat, I thought I would jet my boys to a couple of the “hippest” sneaker shops  while we were nearby. (Thank you Google for making this middle-aged dad appear, even momentarily, kinda cool.)

What I found inside the minimalist, tiny, privately-owned shop surprised even me: white walls, bare floors, plywood shelving and industrial pipe racks. This was the place?

Now, let me be clear: I have literally seen closets on the north shore that rival the square footage of this shop. But, here, on a blustery December day, I found a welcoming shop owner and a small community of enthusiasts who were pleased to show us their latest acquisitions. My sons were wide-eyed. And, I admit, I was taken by it all.

The sneakers in this shop are unique. Most are unavailable at retail outlets, and here they are sold at a premium- with few at retail prices. The curating of such items comes at a cost. The average price of a premium, after-market sneaker these days is $330.

Each of my sons, age 20 and 15, would pick up a sneaker, examine it from every angle, holding it up to spy the unique stitching and fabric dyes. And to be honest, I haven’t seen them take an interest like this, other than the screens of their phones.

What is it about this place? They’re just tennis shoes, right?

Wrong. It’s the community that the individuality and specificity of the brands affords the consumer. There are Adidas folks. Nikes folks. And then, those others who want the custom, gold-plated designer shoes. My boys save their hard-earned dollars to buy tennis shoes. Ridiculous? Maybe not.  My youngest has even taken to buying premium sneakers on their ‘drop date’ and reselling them online at a premium. And he’s making good, real money.

We bought shoes that day. That’s right, we. I bought a pair, too. To be fair, they were on sale for $50. And I love them. houndstooth

Read GQ article here.