THE RETAIL EXPERIENCE

A May bank holiday cleanup has unleashed the nostalgia again. E-retail is a soulless experience (though folks like Eastman Leather Clothing at least try) and physical retail seems to have gone the same way. Spaces sullied by synthesized aging, and hapless attempts at instant vintage are no fun. A white space, devoid of dust would beat these Bristol Downs League attempts at Ivy League any day. When the much-discussed J Crew* shifts a stack of yellowing Steinbeck novels for pricks to pretend to read at heavy markups, you know you’re in herbsville…it makes sense shifting ’50s editions, what with them being founded in 1983 and all, and some oak-laden Gant concept store with blog support shows what happens when dad-wear mania goes wrong, can we expect a Marlboro Classics push in the next few months?

The Polo-lite approach to stores is rapidly getting tired, and the expensive vintage collection in the corner rarely rings true. That makes the truly great physical retail experiences something to cherish. My personal favourite? San Francisco’s Harputs. Sadly, the Fillmore Street store, opened in the mid ’80s after the Oakland location closed (apparently that was where former sportswear salesman Turk Harput found a pile of deadstock in the late ’70s, traded his car and saw the potential to shift it) closed earlier this year. The archive is reportedly being kept safe somewhere.

If you’re surrounded by sports footwear samples on the regular, or suffered from exposure to some douche filming themselves opening a shoebox and chucking it on YouTube (“Ummm, I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s got red suede stripes…“), like me you’ll hate 80% of sneakers and despise the very notion of “sneaker culture” having grown beyond weary of the mediocrity that clings to sneaker fanaticism like piss stink on a drunkard. Thank fuck for Harputs. You can still go out your way and find rarities in ancient sport shops, but this was a store that organically brought that feel through a policy of hoarding and occasionally holding back. Stumbling past the parade of unfortunates babbling their way up and down the streets, with the Morganator and I taking Henry from Slam City and Gareth from Pointer along – themselves jaded by shoe overexposure, in 2008, we saw faith restored in minutes, as DJ and one of the heirs to the empire, Matt (Bootsy) Harput held it down, with a screen blasting old promo footage in the background, allowing a little wander around the fabled stockrooms. While the store’s rep is ostensibly adidas-centric – when Matt’s father Turk Harput opened it, it was a key brand that shits on any contrived concept store, we saw Converse, Nike, Reebok and Avia by the ton, with Matt naming his price – weirdo Escape editions and Ewings made in Europe knocked us sideways.

Stack upon stack of boxes and loose shoes piled in a way that mocks the kid glove deification of deadstock was a beautiful thing. A.R.C. imitating boutiques, with the globally homogenous, carefully spaced out seasonal top-tier packs will be the downfall of the industry – that and cornball Rapidshare rappers wearing whatever they’re seeded – this felt like the antidote. Matt naming an outrageously reasonable price on a pea green canvas pair of USA-made Jack Purcells (cheaper than J Crew’s pre-distressed versions) led to the purchase of what’s arguably the best pair in my ever-expanding pile of pleather, leather, gluemarks and mesh. Lest we get too ‘Free & Easy’ about them, these aren’t particularly old – maybe they’re early ’90s, but they could even be 2001 – bear in mind that the Lumberton factory, the last bastion of USA-made Converse closed that year. It doesn’t matter. They’re perfect. For financial rewards, and the James Dean look, you’d need the PF ‘Posture Foundation’ pre-Converse variations, but this pair is just a perfect shoe. As the icing on the cake, Matt ushered us to an empty premises next door, a former pizza parlour, still haunted by a doughy stench, filled with bags of garish sportswear – some terrible ski-style gear, but a spot of crack dealer Troop and some ACG tees in the mix – once again, we got an off-the-dome price on them.

Great memories. Another one bites the dust, but we’re promised a Harputs reopening in new premises for 2011. Shouts to Bootsy, and RIP Turk Harput, who passed away in August 2009. A retail pioneer, and founder of a store with the kind of atmosphere that can’t be bought.

www.harputs.com

No disrespect to Reebok, but they’ve got a habit of squandering past glories. When they relaunched the brilliantly-titled Weebok line circa. 2005, it wasn’t like it used to be. Despite a crappy 1990 Cabbage Patch Kids doll tie-in around 1990, they had some of the greatest baby sneakers of any brand. Harputs have a few online (the pictures below are taken from their site), and they look eerily similar to some grown-up size capsule collections trying to capture the 2010 zeitgeist. Hikers? Deck shoe styles? Damn Reebok. You really had it going on. It’s enough to make me broody.

*Apparently London’s getting a branch on Regent Street. Seen on message boards and heard whispered conspiratorially in an elevator.

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