Shoe Enthusiasts Line Up for South Bay's Sneaker Con Convention

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At the Sneaker Con convention on Saturday March 31, the light blue UNC 4 Jordans in this display case had a $17,000 price tag. (Shia Levitt)

Thousands of sneaker enthusiasts and collectors descended on the Santa Clara Convention Center this weekend for Sneaker Con.

Hours before the doors opened at noon on Saturday, the line of mostly young men waiting to get in had already snaked around the corner and past the hotel next door.

Eighteen-year old Frank Robinson drove 8 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada with 3 friends to attend Sneaker Con this weekend. They got in line before 4 am and started selling shoes outside even before doors opened at noon on Saturday.
Eighteen-year old Frank Robinson drove 8 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada with 3 friends to attend Sneaker Con this weekend. They got in line before 4 am and started selling shoes outside even before doors opened at noon on Saturday. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

Eighteen-year old Frank Robinson and his buddy Donald Henry drove 8 hours from Las Vegas with two friends to attend Sneaker Con this weekend. They started selling shoes in line. Some had already sold a few thousand dollars worth of sneakers while they were waiting for doors to open.

Buyers and sellers exchange goods for cash on the Sneaker Con Trading Pit floor.
Buyers and sellers exchange goods for cash on the Sneaker Con Trading Pit floor. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

Robinson hopes to bring in more than $2000 this weekend. Like many people here, he’s both a buyer and a seller. He’s looking to find some good deals so he can turn them around for a profit.

Inside the convention center there’s a basketball court and bleachers and an area designated as the “Sneaker Con Trading Pit.” It’s here that attendees can buy and sell shoes amongst themselves, some setting up informal displays to show off their merchandise on the floor.

Local artist Rasterstache used 24-karat gold paint to create this pair of Adidas, which is priced at $650.
Local artist Rasterstache used 24-karat gold paint to create this pair of Adidas, which is priced at $650. (Shia Levitt/KQED)
Internet celebrity Qias Omar poses with $40 merchandise he's selling to crowds of young fans lined up to meet him.
Internet celebrity Qias Omar poses with $40 merchandise he's selling to crowds of young fans lined up to meet him. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

There are also rows up on rows of vendor booths, some with sneakers protected in display cases and with do not touch signs on them. One shop has a pair of Adidas with 24-karat gold painted on them, on sale for $650 by a local artist named Rasterstache. Another shop has UNC 4 Jordans for $17,000.

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Among the most sought-after shoes here today is a Nike Air Mag called the Marty McFly, after the Back to the Future character. It has different colored neon lights in the sole and side and is on sale for $11,000.

This pair of “Marty McFly” Air Mags, named after the Back to the Future character, is priced at $11,000.
This pair of “Marty McFly” Air Mags, named after the Back to the Future character, is priced at $11,000. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

Johnny Szeto has a Sacramento sneaker store called Kix Unlimited where he buys, sells and trades shoes in Sacramento. The craziest pair of shoes he has ever sold was another Back to the Future themed shoe which went for around $30,000 dollars: Auto-lace Air Mags. Yes, that’s automatic lace as in “when you put your feet in, you push a button and the shoes will automatically lace themselves,” Szeto explains.

Attendees began to hawk shoes like these four sneakers while they were waiting in line for the doors to open at Sneaker Con on Saturday, March 31, 2018.
Attendees began to hawk shoes like these four sneakers while they were waiting in line for the doors to open at Sneaker Con on Saturday, March 31, 2018. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

Couldn’t you just pay someone a little bit less than $30,000 to lace your shoes for you instead?

“Yeah,” Szeto admits… “but it’s a cool effect, and it lights up and it’s just like something from the future, something we might have in the future,” Szeto says.

As a customer brings by potential shoes to sell to Szeto, he puts his nose up to the hole of the shoe and smell them. He’s checking for knock-offs.

Buyers and sellers can set up informal displays on the floor of the Sneaker Con Trading Pit. This sign lays down some ground rules.
Buyers and sellers can set up informal displays on the floor of the Sneaker Con Trading Pit. This sign lays down some ground rules. (Shia Levitt/KQED)

“You can only fake the look, but the smell of the materials, you can’t fake that. The ones in China that are fake, it smells funny.”

He does not do this to used shoes, he says, just new ones.

So what types of buyer would ultimately buy a 25 or 30 thousand dollar pair of shoes?

“Someone who would rather buy a pair of shoes than a car,” Szeto laughs.

Buyers and sellers can set up informal displays on the floor of the Sneaker Con Trading Pit. This sign lays down some ground rules.
Buyers and sellers can set up informal displays on the floor of the Sneaker Con Trading Pit. This sign lays down some ground rules. (Shia Levitt/KQED)