Nearly three years ago, as his sneaker collection swelled to almost 250 pairs, 14-year-old Chase Reed asked his father, Troy, for $50 to hang out with friends. An innocent request, Chase thought. But for a dad who just spent close to $400 on two new pairs of Jordans for Chase, it was too much. So he made a deal with Chase. "I told him, 'Let me hold a pair of your sneakers as collateral, and I'll give you the money,'" Troy recalls. "Chase had a week to pay me back. He made the deadline, and I returned his sneakers. We did that a few times [when he asked for money]."
The father-son deals not only supplied Chase with some spending cash, but they also sparked an idea. "I told him, 'You're pretty much using your sneakers to get a loan,'" Troy says. So Chase started drawing up a sneaker business plan rooted in the same money-lending process his father introduced him to. "I thought, There have to be other people just like me, with tons of sneakers who need cash too."
That's when Sneaker Pawn, the world's first pawn shop strictly for kicks, was born. Chase and Troy opened the store in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in June 2014. Customers can sell their shoes to pick up some extra money, or they can buy a pair out of the store's collection of approximately 300 pairs, ranging from new releases to retro high tops. "Sneaker Pawn is a place where sneakerheads and non-sneakerheads can come," says Chase. "Even if you're not into sneakers, you can learn about the hottest sneakers on the market. You'll walk out a sneakerhead. It's a place for everyone."
Now 17, Chase runs the show at Sneaker Pawn. He sold the majority of his 250 sneakers to start the business. "I had 15 to 20 pairs left in my collection on opening day," Chase remembers. But there was a big payoff. "By selling them we came up with about $30,000. That helped with the start-up money for pawning and purchasing sneakers and putting shelves on the wall," he says. "It was worth it."
When customers walk into the store to pawn or sell their sneakers, Chase, his father, or a member of their five-person staff evaluates the kicks. They check for yellowing or excessive wear before accepting or rejecting the sneakers. The average payout for a pair is $100 to $150. Customers — who range from teens to professionals and who come from as far away as France and Japan — use the money for a variety of things, such as prom expenses or Mother's Day gifts. Others use the funds to buy more shoes. Customers have 30 to 60 days to claim their sneakers by paying back the amount given, plus a storage fee of a dollar a day. If the sneakers aren't claimed, they become property of the store and go up for sale.
The store also buys hard-to-find sneakers to resell with a high markup. After buying two pairs of limited edition Nike Air Mags, Chase and Troy sold both pairs for approximately $19,000 to two sneaker collectors earlier this year! It was the store's biggest payday so far. Chase isn't running to the nearest shoe store to restock his personal collection with the money the shop is generating, though. "The profits go right back into the store," Chase explains. "We're trying to expand the business."
And it is growing. Sneaker Pawn is moving downtown — near Union Square in Manhattan — to attract even more customers, and a Los Angeles store will open this summer.
Just because Chase is the head of a sneaker enterprise doesn't mean he's excused from schoolwork. The rising senior at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem heads to the store after school almost every day to greet customers, carry out sneaker transactions, and update Sneaker Pawn's social media accounts. He does all of that while using his lunch periods and any downtime he has after school and during the weekends for his studies.
Troy runs the daily operations while Chase is at school, but he is quick to point out that his son is the driving force behind the store's success.
"I tell people, 'I work for him!'" says Troy, a filmmaker and former barbershop owner.
For the father-son duo, it's really not work at all. It's time well spent together. Sneaker Pawn gives the two "an opportunity to bond. I get to watch Chase grow as a young man and as an entrepreneur," Troy says.
Chase plans on detailing his development in essays when he begins applying to colleges like Howard University and UCLA. "The story behind the store's success pretty much writes itself," Chase says.
It's a story that keeps customers like Ampofo Mensah Jr., who has sold eight pairs of Jordans to the store, coming back. "I have a great deal of respect for Chase. When I was his age, I was collecting sneakers. But he took it a step further and started a business," Mensah, 22, says. "I'm in awe of what he's done. He created a great place for sneakerheads like me."
Photos: Al Tielmans for Sports Illustrated