Sneaker head heaven: Shoe expo in Canton will showcase Air Jordans and kicks galore
- Stark County Sneaker and Clothing XPO is noon to 6 p.m. on April 16 at Canton Memorial Civic Center.
- Thousands of shoes will be for sale, including both common and rare Air Jordan sneakers.
- Sneakers are a multi-billion dollar industry; new "Air" movie tells the story of Nike and Michael Jordan's partnership.
John Hray was surrounded by an eclectic mix of sneakers.
Air Jordans , both vintage and newer. Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving edition Nike basketball shoes. Even sneakers decoratively themed with "Spongebob," "Hello Kitty," Coca-Cola and the card game UNO.
Colors were just as varied. Blazing yellow. Hot pink. A rainbow spectrum of combinations.
A longtime sneaker aficionado, the 52-year-old Hray was in his element. Boxes and boxes were stacked in the storage facility, totaling hundreds of pairs.
Many of the shoes will be for sale at the Stark County Sneaker and Clothing XPO from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, 1101 Market Ave. N. The Doylestown resident coordinates the event.
"People in Canton and Stark County shouldn't have to drive two hours to Columbus and one hour to Cleveland for a sneaker show," Hray said. "And they deserve a good sneaker show in their backyard."
More: These Are the Best-Selling Sneakers of 2022
More: 'Air' review: It's all about the shoes, and the A-list cast, in Ben Affleck's slam-dunk drama
Between 50 and 75 vendors are expected at the event, which also will feature vintage clothing. Shoe prices will range from $100 to an average of around $400, with some hard-to-find kicks tagged at $1,000 or more.
Both casual sneaker fans and hardcore collectors are invited to the Stark County Sneaker and Clothing XPO, Hray said. So are parents who are shopping for shoes with their kids.
Hray, a vendor under the name Rock or Stock Shoes, will be joined by dealers from Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas. This is the second year for the Stark County event.
"If you've never been to a show, I think you should come for the experience to kind of step back in your childhood," he said.
"What I love about going to shows is just when you thought you have seen every shoe, you run into a shoe that you might have never seen in that color, (and) you might have never known it came out," Hray said.
Hray is among the legions of sneaker fanatics across the country who partake in an industry that generates more than $70 billion annually, according to Grand View Research.
Proof of the phenomenon is this month's release of the new Hollywood movie "Air," which tells the story of the birth of Nike's Air Jordan shoe line in the 1980s. The film stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
"I'm hoping it makes the younger generation realize how good (Michael Jordan) was and how much he influenced the shoe game, and that it wasn't just fashion," Hray said of the movie.
Retro editions and new versions of the Air Jordan shoe still roll off assembly lines today, with the entire Jordan brand producing $5.1 billion in 2022, according to Front Office Sports .
Best-selling sneakers in 2022 included the Nike Dunk Low Panda, followed closely by the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Patent Bred, adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Beluga Reflective, adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Bone and the Air Jordan 11 Retro Cool Grey, according to hyperbae.
Hray compared the shoe trade to the stock market.
"A shoe goes up or down (in value) on a daily basis," he said.
Loading sneakers into a Ford Probe
Hray's sneaker fandom started in the 1990s.
When moving from Illinois to Ohio, he loaded his Ford Probe with 20 pairs. Now he has 800, with 600 for sale and 220 in his personal collection.
Sneaker hunting, as well as buying and selling, are both a hobby and source of side income. His full-time job is being part-owner of Grandpa's Cheesebarn , which includes locations in Ashland, Norton and at Summit Mall .
Just as enthusiastic about sneakers is Mike Hill, an employee of Hray's.
The two men met through an online sneaker transaction.
Hill's love for sneakers began as a child. Spending money and gifts usually turned into new shoes. Trips to shopping malls for the latest model are recalled fondly. He even sports a large tattoo on his right arm of the original 1985 Air Jordan shoe.
"I don't really like to party or anything like that ... so I put my money into shoes," said Hill, 35. "Everyone has their passion. People collect other things like baseball cards and guns."
He said that "each shoe is its own piece of art; they're all inspired by something; they all have a story behind them.
"I love having them, I love wearing them and I love looking at them," said Hill, who works in the biotech industry related to pharmaceuticals.
The subculture of sneaker collecting
Michael Jordan and Nike pioneered sneaker cool, said the Kent resident.
"I do believe that when it comes to sneaker culture or anything like that ... Jordan set the tone for the culture itself with advertising and with commercials and with ' Be Like Mike' with Gatorade ," said Hill, who travels to 10 to 20 sneaker shows per year. "... Everything just revolved around the shoe."
Sneaker collecting is a scene and subculture with its own lexicon, he explained. "Deadstock" means that a shoe is in an unworn condition and stored in the original box.
Online services even charge a fee to verify the authenticity of rare shoes, Hill said.
Novelty sneakers include the Nike MAG from "Back to the Future II"
Novelty sneakers are also fun, said Hill, who cited the Nike MAG "Back to the Future II" movie edition; Reebok Ghostbusters Ghost Smashers; and the Nike Vandals worn by the Kyle Reese character in the 1984 "Terminator" film.
"That's a coveted sneaker head shoe that has nothing to do with Michael Jordan," he said of the "Back to the Future" shoe.
All walks of life are into sneakers, Hill said.
He recalled when an architect at a Pittsburgh shoe event pulled him aside and said, "I'm a glass case kind of guy," meaning that he wasn't interested in the shoes for sale on vendor tables, but he desired the scarcest and most sought after models − what collectors don't necessarily bring to shows.
"It's just like a woman with her designer bag," Hill said. "It's the same thing."
Reach Ed at email@example.com
On Twitter @ebalintREP
If you go
What: Stark County Sneaker and Clothing XPO
When: noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Canton Memorial Civic Center, 1101 Market Ave. N
Tickets: Adult admission is $20 at the door and $10 in advance when purchased online at https://www.eventbrite.com/ by searching for the event. Student admission is $5. Parents are admitted free if they bring a child.