Cracked Soles: The Rotting Sneaker Vault

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There are artefacts scattered across the globe that can help us better understand the history of human existence. Whether it’s war memorabilia or ancient Egyptian tombs, the answers to the big questions can be found searching through what’s left behind. For us sneakerheads, walking into a store and finding relics – such as a pair of Air Jordan 3s from 1988 or a pair of original David Robinson’s Nike Air Command Force – is the equivalent of an archaeologist walking into a cave and finding King Tut’s flip-flops.

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As the founder of Modern Notoriety, I’ve built relationships with just about everyone involved in the sneaker community from collectors to store owners and even athletes. Back in 2011 we wrote a piece about a store located on Chicago’s West Side. At that time, the son of the owner asked me if I was interested in checking out some sneakers they had stored in another location. Context: after the Bulls secured their second championship in 1992, fans flooded the streets. Unfortunately, the celebrations turned into riots, looting and violence throughout several areas in the city; the family-run business on which this story focuses was set alight in the mayhem. The fire was huge and ended up damaging a considerable percentage of the inventory. Everything that was salvaged was kept in storage and just sat there until recently. And when I say ‘storage’, I’m talking about four floors of pure magic.

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At first the son thought I would have no interest in what was upstairs – he actually referred to it as ‘rubbish’ – but when I was let in, I wanted to shake him; he didn’t even realise the goldmine he'd been sleeping on. When I first opened the door, I felt like I had found the Ark of the Covenant, Spear of Destiny and Mayan gold all at once! There were just boxes and boxes of sneakers from every brand you can imagine dating back to 1985. It’s just a shame so many of them were decomposing. To the average bloke it probably smelled like a mouldy buffet, but for me the scent given off by over 30 years of heat was pure olfactory heaven. I mean, come on, what’s the first thing we usually do when we open up a box of sneakers? We breathe them in. The distinct aroma of rotting leather was bliss.

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I took my photographer Vince and we ran around frantically sorting through the rubble. But there was no way we could shoot it all. From Etonics and Reebok to Ewing sneakers from the late 80s and early 90s, Converse and ASICS, there was all kinds of crazy stuff. Seeing all the Nike products from that era teleported me back to the glory days when just about every Nike basketball and running shoe had its own unique advertising campaign. There were floors of OG Agassi models, Carmine VIs, Huaraches and runners like the Pegasus, Icarus and Tailwind. Dozens of vintage Air Jordans were just scattered all over the floor. Lost mates, full pairs, busted-ass uppers, cracked soles, there’s still so much more there that we didn’t have time to uncover… AAAHH!!

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Over the years the owners have been too busy taking care of business to worry about the mess from the past, which left the stash relegated to the ‘get back to you later’ basket. Recently, however, they’ve been letting a select few heads into the inner sanctum. Basically you have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone to be allowed in. Vintage collectors are starting to sort through the stock of apparel and sneakers, but there’s just so much in there that it’s going to take an army to completely clean the place out. I feel fortunate to be one of those people. And don’t worry, I managed to score a few pairs for my personal collection too!

Originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 30. If you want to delve into the Sneaker Freaker magazine archive, head across to our Shop.

Story: Oscar Castillo, Modern Notoriety
Images: Vince Sirico and Oscar Castillo

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