A whole different kind of shoe fetish steps out at the Baltimore Sneaker Show

Carlos “Los” Worsham has set up his collection at the head of the runway by 5 p.m.—early for a show that starts at 6. He’s got yellow Adidas on his feet.

A guy walks up and picks up a shoe from the other side of the table. “That’s not for sale,” Los says. The guy asks about maybe trading. Los says sure, let’s see what you have.

Los has been collecting sneakers since he was about 15—“at least 80 or 90 pairs,” he says. At 22 he says he’s the youngest contestant at the Baltimore Sneaker Show.

We’re in the Melo Center at 1100 E. Fayette St., in the basketball court (what else). This’ll be Baltimore’s big sneaker show and meetup. Getting in cost $15 in advance, $30 at the door. There’ll be a shoe collection for the poor, rapper Stalley is scheduled to take the stage later, and there’s a “people’s choice” contest to pick the best collection, with a $500 prize for the winner. “I need the money,” Los says.

A newbie points to a Nike sneaker and asks for its story. “That’s white cement,” Los says. “That’s one of the starters. Jordan won a dunk contest in these.”

He says he has some rare stuff, like the Retro7. “Year of the red” in China: “Only some was made.” He’s got a Kanye West Nike Air—one of 3,000 pairs made.

But the pride and joy here are his Jeremy Scott Adidas. Los picks up a light green high-top shoe with a wing laced into it like Hermes. “Wait,” he says, “let me put those in the sun for a minute.” He leaves the hall with the right shoe (everyone brings just the right shoe to the show, he says, to have more room for display). Now Los is back with the Scott shoe, which he shoves under the runway where it’s dark: “These glow in the dark,” he says. And they do.

Scott is known for detachable wings and some over-the-top design elements—fuzzy bears, say, or dog bones where the laces would go.

“It’s street culture for real,” says a guy named Tyrone. “These are our roots,” he says, pointing to the Jordans. “But after a while we couldn’t wear them”—everyone else had pairs just like them. So he and Los went to the Jeremy Scotts.

Andre Johnson sets up a nice display on a table near the front of the room. He’s trying to sell a few. “Over the years I collected, everything pays for itself,” he says. He points to the Nike Air Foamposite. “When you put this shoe on, it actually sucks to your feet,” he says. “No one can wear it but you.” He’s got a never-worn pair, a year old. Another never-worn pair is two years old. He says the shoes are worth $475—roughly double their original cost.

It’s getting close to show time, and guys are walking in with white plastic garbage bags filled with right sneakers. One collector guards a stack of boxes bigger than a table as he waits patiently for a table to be brought to him so he can set up. A guy pounds the drum kit on the other side of the room, then the band gets in and drops some smooth grooves for a bit before checking out. DJ Vanrod cues up Milly Esquire’s  “Let ’Em Say.”

“For me it started in high school, being an athlete,” says a guy who says his name is Al. He’s standing next to Anthony Troy at a table near the room’s far corner. “It turns into a fetish. My room turned into a shoe factory.”

“Yeah,” says Troy, who says he’s been collecting for about a year and is attending his first sneaker show. “My girlfriend hates the house now ’cause there’s so many shoes there. She’s like, ‘You‘re not gonna make a profit.’”

“I think the shoe craze is getting out of hand,” Al says, marveling at the ticket price for this year’s event. Al says it was $5 last year. And the prices of some collectable sneakers have taken on bubble proportions.

Take the Nike Galaxy Air Foamposite. Released on Feb. 24 and priced at $220, it has since sold for more than $2,000, according to Troy: “People were giving away their cars for these shoes.” He does not have a pair.

Dwayne Wilson has a table of Air Force 1s. “That’s all I collect,” he says. He’s been collecting for five or six years, and this is his first contest. He’s got a Lance Armstrong edition (yellow and black, lots of be strongs on it), a DJ Premier (with records printed on the soles), and a Dice K—orange with fake dragon skin and, yep, real pony hair on the upper. Dice K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) is a Red Sox pitcher, so probably not a big winner here in Baltimore on the second day of the season. But mad kicks all the same.

Outside at 6:20 as the show gets underway, the line runs several hundred feet up the street.