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From his Air Jordan-clad feet to the blue-dyed braids on his head, Dominique Thomas is a perpetual-motion machine. His legs propel him frantically about as his arms gesture wildly, slapping high-fives, and his mouth emits a constant stream of infectious exuberance: "That's what's up" or "That's real talk."
But standing in one place is actually what this 22-year-old Denver resident does best. Thomas will fly all over the country to wait in front of shoe stores, often for days at a time, so that when that shop releases a limited-edition sneaker, he's the first in line. His patient persistence has made him a celebrity in sneaker circles nationwide, and earned him the nickname of DQ the Line Pimp.
The wall of Thomas's bedroom looks like a shoe store, with sneakers displayed from floor to ceiling. Each pair is a memento from a different U.S. city where he was first in line at a major sneaker event. The oldest is a local treasure: a gold-and-red pair he snagged after camping outside Niketown on the 16th Street Mall for four winter days in 2005, waiting for a special release hosted by Sole Collector, the sneaker magazine. Ever since, Thomas has made sure that when Sole Collector introduces a limited-edition sneaker at a Niketown --whether in New York or Hawaii or anywhere in between -- he's always the first in the door. This past July, the magazine awarded him unique "Dedication Prize" sneakers for being first in line at ten straight releases. "Talk about determination with a capital D," says DeJongh Wells of Sole Collector. "It really leaves me flabbergasted. He is the line king."
For Thomas, being first is a way to elevate himself above the anonymity of the sneakerhead hordes. "I can't make Nike stop producing a shoe" after he gets a pair, he says, "so at least I'll be the first. I'll be a little step higher than the average buyer."
He learned the hard way just how much work it is to be number one when he went to his first sneaker release in Denver in 2001. He figured that getting to Niketown a few hours before the store opened would put him at the head of the line, but he found two people already waiting. So for the next few years, he made sure he'd be first for Denver shoe releases by camping out all night, if not longer, wrapped in his signature Jordan sleeping bag and getting pestered by confused police officers. Then with the Sole Collector events, he took his game nationwide, armed with a tent, a lawn chair, a change of underwear -- and discounted plane tickets, thanks to his flight-attendant mom.
At times it's been a harrowing quest. Just a few days before back-to-back Sole Collector releases in Cleveland and Hawaii, Thomas wound up in jail after giving an officer false information. He says that he had to sell one of his favorite pairs of shoes to make bail, but he still managed to be first at both the Cleveland and Hawaii events -- then bought back his beloved kicks once he returned home.
These days, Thomas has a line-pimping partner: Brandon Moore, his former Denver nemesis. "For a while, him and I would battle," says Moore. "But then, one time, he held a pair of shoes for me when I couldn't get to a release in time, and he touched my heart. He was my best friend forever." Now if there are two sneaker releases on the same day, the duo will strategize and each wait for a different pair. They've also started a sneaker-customization business, painting unique designs on shoes so that friends and family members can feel like they waited in line for a one-of-a-kind pair. And they have even bigger dreams, for a Denver sneaker boutique of their own.
That way, when a major sneaker release is announced and sneakerheads line up for days, they won't need to worry. With their own store, they'll always be first in line.