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What looks like a bodega, walks like a bodega, and smells like a bodega? Bodega, one of the coolest sneaker stores in the Northeastern United States. Situated on a quiet residential block in Boston, the unassuming storefront looks like a classic, fully-functional New York City—you got it—bodega. But walk to the back, trigger a tile in the floor, and watch as the Snapple machine slides away to reveal a sleek dark-wooded retail space, chock full of some of the most sought-after footwear, designer streetwear, and sportswear around.
Racked caught up with Bodega's founder and owner Jay Gordon in Berlin, where he was launching a new collaboration with Lacoste—more on that later—and we asked him a bunch of questions about his iconic sneakerhead destination-shop and his own collection of shoes.
Jay Gordon: Bodega's completely hidden—there's no phone, there's no sign. You go into a bodega, like a New York City bodega, and you walk into the back of the store and you step on a broken tile in the floor and the vending machine slides over and you go back into the real store—and it's hardwood floors, chandeliers, a really high ceiling.
The bodega functions as a bodega. We don't sell a lot of stuff because I have to restock it if we sell it. We sell drinks and cleaning supplies and stuff like that. When we started, I did everything to make it look like a real bodega—we had everything. I thought it was funny, but the health department didn't. We had poisons on really low shelves—like rat killer where kids could get to it, which is obviously not where you're supposed to put it. Every food was next to a poison. We thought it was funny, we were just messing around, but the health department was, like, no.
They came in and they were like: "There's a water stain on that tile." And I was like, "I know, I poured coffee on that tile myself. It's brand new."
Image via Boston Bazaar
We got all the stuff in there from other stores. The shelving was from a Toys R Us that went out of business. The counter was from an old beauty supply place. It looked old and beat up.
We opened in May 2006.
I was working in advertising and so the idea for Bodega was to show people what you can do with no advertising. If you have a little creativity and are willing to work a little harder, you don't have to do what everyone else is doing.
The store took off really quickly. I spent the first couple of years just working on the store, building the brand, and doing fun projects with different sneaker companies, and now I'm getting into doing stuff with other companies, finally. We've worked on probably a dozen projects, probably more. We've worked with Converse and Puma and Reebok and Adidas and Saucony and Lacoste and we've done a couple of boots as well.
We sell a lot of clothes—a lot of small brands, Japanese brands like Original Fake. Some German brands, like Acronym. Bodega's still probably 60-40 shoes and neakers, but we sell a lot of clothes as well.
What are your favorite things to wear?
I'm, like, the simplest person ever. I wear a black T-shirt and jeans every day, just different sneakers.
How many pairs of sneakers do you own?
My wife doesn't stand a chance, it's ridiculous. I have hundreds. They're everywhere—my brother has a storage space that's filled with them, and he's got an office for me in his building that's padlocked with a ton of shoes. I don't even know what's in there, I just dumped shoes last time I moved. My poor parents have stuff at their house, I've got them everywhere. Mostly in boxes. Everytime I move, I sort of reassess which ones I'm going to take to my new house, which ones I'm going to put in storage.
At the house [I have] probably 60 [in rotation now]. You know the brand Clay? I love Clay, I wear them a ton. I'm a big old-school runner guy, so I wear old Air Maxes. I'm definitely "comfort over fashion."
Have you ever thrown any sneakers away?
I have. I can't remember when, but I have. I have the original colorway of the AirMax 1, I think I have nine of them. One of them got absolutely destroyed, and I let it go.
I used to collect vintage clothing—more of the athletic-inspired: the old Nike, Adidas, and Puma stuff, and I still have a pretty sizeable collection, but I don’t really actively collect it anymore. And I've got a good collection of vintage sunglasses for the store.
Living in an apartment, I really don’t have any space for anything else. We’re working on a special built-in for the apartment so I can store them out of sight. I wanted to get a bigger place just for the sneakers.
A lot of people collect our stuff and put it on a shelf, but we love it when people wear it. I saw a kid in Tokyo wearing our shoes, I freaked out, I was so excited and I went up to him. He bought them from a store in Australia.
Do a lot of sneaker collectors make the pilgrimage to Bodega?
Woody [from SneakerFreaker] and I were talking about it before. There's not a lot of searching anymore, because you can find so much online. That's why a lot of the projects I like are very limited in styles and stores, so you really do have to seek it out. People drive to us from Montreal and from New York and from DC. We’ve got one customer who flies up from North Carolina, drives to the store, shops, drives back to the airport and goes back to North Carolina.
What happens when there's an limited-edition special shoe?
People go crazy. We try to discourage people lining up—we're in a residential neighborhood, so it’s really obvious what they’re there for. We do a lottery. We did one with MLB and Vans—it was a Red Sox shoe by Bodega, people went absolutely crazy.
What are some of your favorite stores?
In the world? Colette is one of my top stores, just because it’s a great store. I really like the Japanese stores in Tokyo. But it’s not the big name stores. The smaller stores get the great stuff. I love going to random stores and seeing what I can find.
· Bodega [Official Site]