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Whether rocked or stocked, 'sneakerhead' culture is alive

Jay Halvorson talks Monday, June 4, 2018, in his north Fargo apartment about a mosaic he commissioned that is made from an actual sneaker. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 3
Jay Halvorson talks Monday, June 4, 2018, in his Fargo apartment about which shoes in his collection that have never been worn. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 3
Jay Halvorson opens a sneaker storage trunk custom built to emulate an Air Jordan shoe box Monday, June 4, 2018, in his Fargo apartment. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 3

FARGO — For thousands of years, people have collected things — baseball cards, watches, stamps, coins and pretty much anything one can imagine.

But what happens when a hobby becomes an addiction, one that has the potential to threaten your life? This hobby is so unique that group members in the lifestyle even have their own name: "sneakerhead."

Jay Halvorson, a "sneakerhead" from Fargo, says he got into sneakers, especially Nikes and Jordans, as a preteen. But his love for the rubber-soled footwear really took off when his mom bought him a new pair of shoes for his 23rd birthday just like he had enjoyed as an 11-year-old kid.

"You see these when you're 11 or 12 years old, and then all of sudden when you see them when you're 23, it takes you to a different spot," he said.

His love of sneakers has grown since. While he had just a few pairs as a child, the adult Halvorson now has a collection that would rival some shoe stores.

"I probably have 70 or 80, even 90 pairs," Halvorson says. "I have a giant-sized Jordan box that is 16-times bigger than an original to store them in."

However, Halvorson isn't alone in the area. Mike Brevik, an accidental collector from Barnesville, Minn., guesses his collection is even larger.

"I actually have no idea," Brevik says. "I know, give or take 20, I am somewhere around the 120-ish area?"

Despite his large accumulation of shoes, Brevik says he never meant to become a collector.

"I think it was 1995 when they did a retro-release of Air Jordans. It happened to be my favorite style and my favorite year, so I went out and bought every color available," he says. "I mean, I had them when I was a kid and the opportunity to get them back in new condition and wear them again was kind of the driving force."

Toll of the sole

People will sometimes do anything for shoes, especially hyped limited-release sneakers, according to Halvorson, who said it's a craze.

"It's the most odd thing you've ever seen in your life," Halvorson says. "Kids will not make their car payments, pay their rent or any of their bills — all for shoes. I mean, it's just stupid."

The documentary "Sneakerheadz" suggested a few years ago that more than 1,200 people die each year over sneakers, with marketing one of the possible major factors in the violence that sometimes surrounds sneaker releases.

There have been reports of people hiding in trash cans and losing jobs in an effort to be first in line for shoe releases. Someone even tried to trade their car on Craigslist to get shoes.

After the 2012 midnight release of Nike Galaxy Foamposite basketball shoes in 2012 was canceled, police in riot gear had to be called in to control angry crowds at a Florida mall. More recently, in November 2017, 27 police officers had to control an unruly crowd after a Richmond, Va., shoe store canceled the sale of a shoe designed by a local resident.

When asked if he has ever braved wild crowds to try get a new pair of shoes, Halvorson laughed because he's moved beyond that tactic to add to his collection.

"I pay a guy who sits behind a desk and he can guarantee it to me or give me my money back," Halvorson says. "I have been one of the guys that's stood up at Scheels when it's 20-below overnight and sat in line to purchase shoes. But that was also seven or eight years ago."

Changing hobby

How does one know when new shoes will be ready to buy? Halvorson says it's all about the apps, or at least when his buyer posts updates about sale times.

"I have other websites I use to tell me what's going to be hot," he says. "And now shoes are even on a stock market."

He's referring to StockX, an online marketplace that offers live prices of streetwear, handbags and sneakers based on demand similar to stocks.

Because of the chaos and violence that can ensue, in-store releases are a thing of the past. Everything is online now, he says, but that means hacks are a new threat, and bots, or software that can input data without human interference, are an issue when it comes to buying shoes online.

The only thing bot owners need to do is enter their information once, wait for multiple orders to come in and resell the purchases at a markup.

"There is no market like that out there," Halvorson says. "We have complained to Nike for eight years. The computers have really taken over. They say they have tried to fix it, but these kids build new programs and they get over the firewall or whatever it is and make it bigger and better."

Oftentimes, there is nothing Nike or any other maker or store can do.

Brevik has a different strategy, like looking for a bargain at outlet mall stores in Albertville, Minn.

"I've never done the camp out thing, though. If I'm lucky enough to be in the right place in the right time, then I'll do it. I just get creative with it. I don't get upset if I miss a pair."

Sneaker collections can become serious investments. With boutique-style stores catering to rare, sought-after styles of shoes — sometimes costing thousands of dollars — any sneakerhead worth his soles would be smart to keep things under lock and key.

Brevik's love of the retro-release shoes started out as a style choice, but it quickly turned into an investment, and that means he now buys multiple pairs: "One for show, one for go."

Many sneakerheads don't even wear the shoes they buy, but Halvorson says that's a waste.

"I usually buy in twos: one to rock, one to stock," Halvorson says.

The shoes in "stock" are sometimes sold or traded for other styles, continuing the collecting frenzy even years after they first hit the market.

"It becomes more of an addiction than a hobby," Halvorson says.

Emma Vatnsdal

Emma Vatnsdal is a Features writer, focused on telling stories about people, places and all the interesting things that come along with it. She earned her degree in multimedia journalism from Minnesota State University Moorhead and joined the Forum Communications team in 2018. She grew up in the far north town of Roseau, Minn. and has a thick Minnesotan-Canadian accent. Follow her on Twitter @emmajeaniewenie.

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