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ShopLocalSD: "Dope-Ass" Sneakers Are At Blends

Blends owner Tak Kao and manager Edwin Negado.
Photo by Rebekah Sager

There’s a boutique in downtown's East Village that’s so down low and underground that if you didn’t know it was there, you’d walk right past it. The customers are the hippest of the hip and the coolest of the cool. There’s virtually no sign outside, but true sneaker freaks know that when it comes to finding the most exclusive kicks, the best shop to cop is Blends.

Like it’s owners, Mike Toe and Tak Kato, the store adheres to a Japanese minimalist style. The walls are white and the floors are black—nothing to distract sneaker connoisseurs from exploring one of the best collections of “quickstrike” or “hyperstrike” shoes in the country. Quickstrike or hyperstrike are shoes produced in very limited numbers, making them more valuable to collectors and usually adding a higher price tag.

When Blends first opened, East Village, says manager Edwin Negado, “was a war zone.” The neighborhood was a scary combination of drugs, dive bars, and a lot of homeless.

“Customers would park in front of the store, come in, shop, and go directly back into their cars,” Negado says. Now, with the addition of Petco Park, the neighborhood has seen a resurgence, with restaurants and other boutiques.

Winged Adidas at Blends.
Photo by Rebekah Sager

Blends carries Nike, Nike SB, Converse, Adidas, Vans, Generic Surplus and Jordans. All of the lines are small-tier versions of the giants, meaning that they’re limited-edition designs and only sold in a small number of handpicked stores. The average customer is an 18 to 45-year-old mad sneaker enthusiast hunting for the most sought-after shoes.

The worldwide sneaker industry exploded in 1986 when a rap group from Queens, New York, called Run D.M.C., emerged with a song called “My Adidas,” an anthem to the German-owned shoe company. With this first marriage of a brand name with hip hop, the athletic shoe industry changed forever.

Following Adidas’ success, the sneaker game exploded with the addition of Michael Jordan and Nike’s Air Jordan One. Incorporating basketball shoes, an up-and-coming athlete in Jordan, visionary design, never before used luxury materials, and Spike Lee for advertising—there was no looking back. The sneaker as fashion was born. Today it is a $30 billion a year juggernaut.

When sneakerheads come to Blends, they speak the lingo—great sneakers are known as sick kicks, heaters, neck breakers, jewels, exclusives, and of course, dope-ass sneakers. The shoes can run anywhere from $70, for Nike SB, to Space Jam Jordans for $175. The gold-standard find is the Air Yezzy’s by Kanye West at $225.

Customers can collect sneakers made of deer skin, ostrich, alligator, crocodile, and even stingray. People travel far and wide to enhance their sneaker collections, attending sneaker hip-hop lifestyle exhibitions like Sneaker Pimps, held in more than 60 cities worldwide. Customers grab exclusive shoes in the most coveted colors. Often, they collect but never wear the shoes in an effort not to destroy collectibililty or resale value.

Around payday every week, Negada says, sneakerheads are out in force looking for the dopest shoes. In February, they’ll be at Blends looking for the Copper Nike Foamposite—aka, the “dirty coppers.” The shoe to have for 2010 is the Nike SB P-Rod 2.5, and P-Rod 4, released in August.

Sneaker fashionistas understand that shoes make the outfit. From funky laces and crazy fly tongues, if you want to look sick, you have to rock the right kicks to match your gear. Like most hobbyists, sneaker people fear that if they don’t buy “out of print” shoes and "keep 'em on ice,” they may never find them again.

Others just prefer to wear them.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Name: Blends
  • Address: 726 Market Street