The Commerce of Converse

There's no business like shoe business for the 400. When the designer sneaker store opened at 1010 Bannock Street in September 2005, it was the first of its kind in the state, and some wondered whether there were enough mile-high sneakerheads to foot the bills. But since then, several similar boutiques have opened along the Front Range, and the 400 has started building a hi-top empire. For the last few months, it's offered its wares as part of a retail collective at 445 South Saulsbury Street at Belmar in Lakewood, and now it's building another store in Curtis Park.

"We're hoping to address a separate niche, an unaddressed sneaker niche in Denver," explains 400 co-owner Randy Kleiner. Although he's hesitant to reveal exactly what niche that new store, scheduled to open early this year, will fill -- labeling a footwear establishment "urban" or "indie" can ostracize potential customers -- Kleiner promises it will offer more athletic-based Nike, Adidas, New Balance, A-Life and Creative Recreation shoes, rather than the lifestyle-focused products featured in his other locations.

While Kleiner believes the Denver sneaker scene is ripe for expansion, Chris Weichert, owner of the Fort Collins shoe boutique Unsoled, isn't so sure. He'd been considering setting up shop in LoDo, but thanks to unreliable business partners, that plan has been put on hold. The big shoe companies on the coasts will never bless shoe boutiques in backwater Colorado with the major kicks he'd need to make a profit in Denver, Weichert worries. So instead, he's now planning to build a skate shop next to his store at 105 East Laurel Street in Fort Collins -- just so that Nike will consider allowing him to sell sought-after Nike SB skate shoes. "The good shoes go to the big metropolitan cities," he complains. "I don't think Denver will be able to capture the audience Nike or Jordan brand will be looking for."

That's why Brian LaRoche, by all accounts Colorado's number-one sneakerhead (see "Sole Survivor," the September 28, 2006 Westword cover story, to find out why), is planning on building his sneaker boutique as far away from Denver as possible -- in New York State, where he grew up. Friends and family are currently scoping out potential real estate back East, LaRoche reports via a late-night e-mail. He's doesn't have time during the day to talk on the phone: in the shoe store where he works in the Town Center at Aurora, business is booming. -- Joel Warner

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