Q&A: Sneaker Freaks Columbus gives collectors a convention of their own

Abernathy Miller
Jermaine Jenkins, Travis Walker, and Jonte Toddy of Sneaker Freaks

It hasn't been easy for sneaker connoisseurs in Columbus. For serious sneakerheads, the only place to find the latest and greatest in limited-edition footwear is at Sole Classics, the internet, or a sneaker convention. Unfortunately, the Columbus sneaker market was deemed "not worth it" by national cons, and therefore the Arch City was passed over. Rather than take the snub as a diss, Jermaine Jenkins, Jonte Roddy, Travis Walker and the other five co-founders of Sneaker Freaks Columbus took it as a dare. On Saturday, March 14, the Ohio Union will be transformed into a trading floor for more than 100 vendors and an estimated 2,500 attendees to buy, sell and trade the rarest sneakers around at the third Sneaker Freaks convention. Apparel, art, socks and all things shoe-centric will be up for grabs, making the event a must-see for sneaker snobs across the city. Attendees will even have the chance to win one of three pairs of sneakers worth $700-$1,000.

There was a void in Columbus. I went to a trade show in Las Vegas, and was like, "What is this? Why can't it happen in our hometown?" I actually went to see what the buzz would be like when the new Jordans came out. It was unreal. People were going nuts, camping out in their cars at 7 a.m. to buy them. There is definitely a niche market. [Roddy] called me and asked if I'd be interested in starting something. Apparently he had already been talking to one of our other friends about doing the same thing. We decided to get everybody together and started talking it out. We planned the first convention in 90 days. We honestly didn't know if it would work or not. I've thrown events before, but sneaker culture is completely different. You have to find the sneakerheads; you have to find the vendors. Now we're getting people from New York, Indiana [and] other places participating. We're also raffling off a pair of Air Jordan 3 Retro "doernbecher," Air Jordan 8 Retro "doernbecher"and some Air Jordan Gold Medal Pack. We partnered with the 22nd Foundation, donating gently used shoes to underprivileged kids. It's become about more than just sneakers. JJ

Columbus was close to getting a sneaker show, but the organizers deemed the Columbus market "notworth it"; we destroyed that notion. People have a concept of Columbus that isn't accurate. When you tell people from out of state you're from Columbus, they ask, "How close is that to Cleveland or Cincinnati?" People think sneaker culture in Columbus is non-existent, but the footlocker at Easton is one of the top five in the country because of the sales they do. The numbers never lie. This year, our show sold out way quicker than we expected. We are still figuring out how to fit all the vendor tables in the space. We appreciate being looked over because it motivates us to do what we do. TW

Sneaker Freaks can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. When you arrive, it's like a stock market trading floor. People are making trades and deals all over the place. You watch these kids really start to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. It's not just vendors; regular attendees can bring up to three pairs to trade or sell. You'll see kids as young as 9 yelling like they're at a car auction, or 11-year-olds running around with a few hundred dollars trying to make trades. [Jared Winter] of Socks On Deck came to our first show when he was 12 selling his custom socks, and now he has athletes buying from him. Other shows have been popping up that high school kids are starting. We love that they're doing that; not only does it help them, but it helps to grow the culture. JR

Every shoe they bring has a story.Sneaker collecting isn't just about the shoes, it's about the culture.We have some of the best collectors in the world coming to our show, and they can tell you exactly what happened the day they got their '87 Jordans. My dad brought me my first pair of Jordans because I got good grades. The smile on my Dad's face when he gave them to me was indescribable. That's what it's all about - the stories and the culture. You can't go places barefoot, so why not have something that shows your personality. It's easy to approach somebody on the street about their shoes, and most the time they'll have a story to share. JJ

Sneaker Freaks Columbus