From the basics made famous by Run-D.M.C.'s “My Adidas” to the high-fashion versions created by Isabel Marant, sneakers have defined the youth of New York City for generations. Back in 2005, during one peak of NYC's collective obsession with the footwear, there seemed to be a new store popping up every other week. Today the stores that survived have become iconic, even as new boutiques open and put their spin on the staple. What all have in common is an intrinsically New York sensibility—whether they lean toward hip-hop, skate, punk, basketball or more fashionable models. It's no stretch to say the City offers the widest breadth of sneaker boutiques in the country, if not the world. Read on for information about a few of our favorites.
274 Lafayette St., 212-966-7799, NoLIta, Manhattan
It's been two decades since this downtown skate mecca opened its doors. While owner James Jebbia's store originally served as a hangout for a core of downtown skaters—faces familiar from Larry Clark films—today it's more often swarmed by a large, ravenous fan base of boys and girls who don't skate and were born after Kids premiered. Throughout its evolution, Supreme has been ground zero for Nike collaborations. (You could say Nike SB was created for, and tested at, Supreme.) Any sneakerhead worth his or her salt will mention the Dunk Low Pro SB with elephant print as perhaps the greatest sneaker collaboration ever (apologies to Jeff Staple's Pigeon Dunk). But Supreme isn't solely a shrine to Nike's adept skate marketing: each season offers a new round of collaborations, including some top-notch stuff from Vans. In the genre-bending world that is New York sneakers, Supreme falls squarely at the center of the hip-hop, punk and hardcore skate scenes. In fact, it is that scene.
7 E. 3rd St., 212-505-7551, East Village, Manhattan
Years before the Bowery became gentrified, Dave Ortiz and Chris Keeffe opened this small skate shop across from a homeless shelter. Set just below ground level, this specialized cove of skate culture is easy to miss. While Supreme was created for skaters and then expanded, DQM (short for Dave's Quality Meat, which it was formerly known as) still counts that core group as its primary clientele. Nike and Vans take up most of the shelf space, along with offerings from smaller brands like HUF. Most of the sneakers carried here are made to skate in; looking good is a beneficial plus for those with two left feet or whose skating is now firmly in their past. DQM picks and chooses its collaborations carefully—the shop's bacon-inspired Nike Air Max 90 is one memorable example—and recently teamed with Vans on a pair of “I Love NY” sneakers.
Alife Rivington Club
158 Rivington St., 212-432-7200, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Back in the heyday of sneaker collecting (let's call that 2002–2007), walking into now-defunct outlets like Clientele and Recon/Nort, or even Supreme, wasn't exactly a study in stellar customer service. But at the end of the day, you could try on sizes and still not buy anything without feeling uncomfortable. Then there was Alife. It was always intimidating being buzzed in through its door; then again, there was a fair chance you’d stumble into an impromptu Wu-Tang concert in the courtyard, so the shop earned its exclusivity. Today you're less likely to luck out and see Staten Island's finest in action, but the store's eponymous line of sneakers stacks up nicely against any product from Nike, Converse or Vans. Alife has remained independent and grown in a way that emphasizes its downtown roots. Go today, get buzzed in and have a true NYC shopping experience.
203 W. 125th St., 212-666-2242, Harlem, Manhattan
If you've been racking up air miles flying to Tokyo over the last few years, you might be familiar with this store's Harajuku flagship. Thankfully for the rest of us, this Japanese brand has opened an easy-to-find location on 125th Street, just doors down from the Apollo Theater. Atmos stocks its own goods alongside Nikes, Air Jordans, New Balance and Adidas in an airy space that's always packed with eager shoppers. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and you might even stumble upon a few Japanese exclusives that snuck their way stateside.
175 E. 105th St., 212-360-7683, East Harlem, Manhattan
This East Harlem destination is a lifestyle and clothing boutique, and its selection reflects a departure from the oft-duplicated stock of many other sneaker stores. There's nothing wrong with a pair of Nikes, but Goliath looks to brands like Android Homme and Keep to mix up the offerings.
812 Broadway, 888-937-8020, Union Square, Manhattan
We wish all vintage stores were as highly organized as Flight Club—the store is like a sneakerhead's Library of Congress. Nearly every covetable shoe, from the first Jordans to latest releases, is here and available to buy. There aren't too many secondhand markets that can make eBay seem irrelevant, but that's exactly what Flight Club does: the selection can be so daunting, it's best to go in with a plan. They also list their entire stock online, which makes it easy to find what you want before you walk through the door.
644 Broadway, 646-648-6285, NoHo, Manhattan
233 Flatbush Ave., 347-821-4206, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
It's been a long road to Kith for owner Ronnie Fieg. Starting out stocking boxes at mass-market shoe store David Z, Fieg worked his way up the chain until he was consulting on buys and designing collaborations. Fieg brings his eye for curation and talent for selective buys to both of Kith's locations. The stores also support smaller brands with cult followings—like Clae and Supra—while stocking the best of Nike's Flyknits and Wovens.
347 Fifth Ave., 718-369-7477, Park Slope, Brooklyn
This basketball-influenced sneaker store does stock limited-edition Vans, The Hundreds and New Balance, but the majority of its space is an homage to footwear inspired by the hardwood. That means a lot of Nike, both of retro and new-model varieties. The result is a juxtaposition of street wear and sneaker culture. Floral canvas low tops might sit next to a pair of Air Force 180 mids that wouldn't look out of place in a Charles Barkley–era Phoenix Suns game. Perhaps no shoe is as polarizing as the Air Force I (although a recent white-on-white renaissance has brought opposing camps together). At Premium Goods, the classic Bruce Kilgore–designed AF1 silhouette gets its proper due.
151 Orchard St., 212-253-0588, Lower East Side, Manhattan
While Jeff Staple's groundbreaking retail space didn't start NYC's sneaker craze, it certainly provided fuel for the fire. In 2005, Staple designed the iconic Nike Pigeon Dunk, part of a city series released that year. The shoe was so highly anticipated that its launch at Reed Space led to a riot, over 15 arrests, and an appearance on the cover of the New York Post. (The incident caused Staple to question whether it meant the end of the Nike Dunk and, more broadly, sneaker fandom itself.) These days, clientele at Reed Space is far more genteel. Inside, the walls are lined with alluring sneakers from Pointer, New Balance, Vans, Converse and Clae. Plus, there's always a surprise or two available—Staple hasn't let a little riot stop his collaborating.
157 Smith St., 718-797-0675, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
167 E. 87th St., 212-837-2375, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Variety is one of the most important qualities to be found in a neighborhood sneaker shop. (That might sound obvious, but many boutiques' selections are fairly narrow.) Rime's breadth makes it a one-stop shop for nearly every sneakerhead's whim—including fans of Jeremy Scott's winged Adidas, which aren't to everyone's tastes. On the more quotidian side, Rime offers a large selection of Nike and Vans, as well as essentials like white canvas Converse Jack Purcells. The store also hosts plenty of launches, good to keep in mind if you're the type who's itching for the latest Nike LeBrons the day they drop.
3 Great Jones St., 212-420-9955, NoHo, Manhattan
With a steady stream of restaurants, bookstores and boutiques opening over the last decade, Great Jones and Bond Streets have slowly become a micro-neighborhood within the already narrow confines of NoHo. One of the oldest boutiques on either street is Memes. While not just a sneaker store, Memes carries a selection of collaborations and handpicked items that dovetail with the vibe of the shop's overall apparel and accessories lines. This means coveted Stüssy collaborations, as well as Jeremy Scott x Adidas entries. Gourmet and Y-3 round out the mix, offering more fashion-forward styles.