One night last week at 11:30, half an hour before the Air Jordan XIV (14’s) Retro Light Graphite sneaker would make its debut, only one loyal “Jayhead” anxiously waited outside of the Champs store to claim his pair of Retro 14’s.
Andy Vargas, a 23 year-old who has since middle school been collecting sneakers endorsed by the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan, didn’t really notice that no one else was behind him in line. He said, “It doesn’t matter if people are in line. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that I was able to get a pair.”
Sneaker releases are big business. The most popular brands- including Nike Foamposites, Nike Air Maxes, and Air Jordans- attract crowds of hundreds who line up around the block at Footlocker, Footaction and Champs, to make sure they are among the first to buy a pair.
But sometimes a particular brand runs out of steam. The Retro 14’s, released in their original form in 1998, are no longer a hot commodity among Jordan fans. These sneakers were popular because they were the first to have seven-imprinted “jumpmen,” (the logo of a Jordan jumping in the air with a ball) embedded throughout the design of the sneaker. They were also the first to feature laces with metal tips, which later became an extension of the Jordan brand.
Alex Carter, the assistant manager of Footlocker on 34th Street, said, “The hype in Jordans are decreasing because the value of the sneaker is decreasing.” As a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, Carter began buying Jordans in 2002 when they were considered “high quality.” Carter said, “The material went down and the prices continued to rise. The suede is a lot cheaper, and people notice that so they don’t buy the sneaker.” Instead, “People are buying the Nike Foamposites,” he said.
The Foamposites debuted in 1997 as the most expensive basketball sneaker on the market, at $180, $40 more than the average price of Jordans. Carter said, “Since its release it has become more retro, but it has stayed true to the purpose of the sneaker. It’s for basketball.”
A Footlocker sales man named John said he attributes the lack of interest in Jordans to the change in generations. He said, “I grew up being a fan of Michael Jordan, and I attached so many memories to the sneakers because of how good he was, he’s a legend.” Though he still considers himself a diehard Jordan fan, he is not impressed with the Retro 14’s. He said, “If I got them as a gift I would wear them, but I wouldn’t spend my own money to buy them.”
Employees at Footlocker were not the only ones who noticed the decline of the Jordan brand. A few blocks away at House of Hoops, a shoe sales man named Tee Jay said that people are turning to other brands because Jordans “have too many colors” and “there’s only so much you can do to change the look of a sneaker,” before the design becomes repetitive.
“I don’t think they [Jordans] are ever going to die,” Carter said, but “if they continue to re-release the same sneaker every two years, people will stop waiting in line.”
Champ’s was the only Times Square store to stay open to release the Retro 14’s. Footlocker, Footaction, and House of Hoops were all closed by midnight. Carter said, “We know it’s going to be a big release when people keep calling to ask about the sneaker. That’s when people come out to buy.”
For Andy Vargas, every Jordan release is a big release. He has been standing in sneaker release lines for nearly 12 years. Last December, he waited in line for more than three hours, when weather alerts predicted the evening temperature would drop well below 10 degrees. Vargas said, “I was in line with my friends, so it wasn’t that bad. It was cold, but I was the tenth or eleventh person in line, so I didn’t wait as long as the people around the corner.”
At 12:10 am, Vargas walked out of Champs carrying his gray, navy and midnight black sneakers in a bag. They’ll make No. 20 of his Jordan collection.
The next big midnight release date is scheduled for November, on Black Friday. The Air Jordan III (3’s) Black Cement will make its 23rd release since the year of 1988. Carter said he expects long lines.