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At Footage Society in Laurel, sneaker obsessives collect and connect

After spending some time in Footage Society: Sneaker Boutique, you will never look at sneakers quite the same way again. While there are the familiar logos of Nike, Reebok and Addias, the assortment of colors, styles and price tags vary greatly as do the shoes’ purposes and quality.

Once worn only by athletes or by those heading to the gym, sneakers are now worn to formal events and can be seen on runways around the world. Celebrities, including Spike Lee and Kanye West, have designer sneaker brands as do professional athletes, including golfer Tiger Woods and NBA basketball players Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

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“It’s a statement," said Nichole Verdejo, co-owner of Footage Society. “Sneakers represent an athlete, a monumental thing or a celebrity.”

Verdejo knows all about the sneaker culture she has catered to since first opening a store on Laurel’s Main Street four years ago before its move last June to its present location on Washington Boulevard.

Sneaker culture, she said, took off when the great NBA star Michael Jordan collaborated with Nike to create the Air Jordan sneaker in 1984.

“A lot of people didn’t really know about the movement before that and did not keep their shoes,” Verdejo said. “Nike’s Air Jordan is one of the biggest in the sneaker community in general and worth the most in resale."

Footage Society offers sneakers that average in cost between $175 to $225; during a special black history show in the beginning of February, Verdejo sold a pair for $2,300.

“We focus on the experience,” Verdejo said. “People are able to touch and feel the sneakers.”

All the sneakers Footage Society offers can be worn, though many are targeted to collectors.

“Sneakers all really have a story,” Verdejo said. “Some are more memorable than others, like Michael Jordan’s ‘flu shoes’ — a pair he wore during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, when he was battling a stomach virus. Jordan later autographed the sneakers, and they sold at auction in 2013 for $104,765.

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For customer Vincent Chapman, 58, nothing feels better than putting on a fresh pair of sneakers. His Beltsville home’s basement, housing his extensive collection, has been compared to a shoe store by friends.

'Ninety-eight percent of what I buy is to wear," said Chapman, though there are a few sneakers that are “so special,” he hasn’t figured out when to wear them, including a pair of sneakers that were offered only at LeBron James’ first game with the LA Lakers after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers almost two years ago.

“I do feel at some point I will wear them, but if at some point I get them signed, I will never wear them again,” Chapman said.

Chapman was thrilled to discover Footage Society was located “at my back door" four years ago.

“As a collector, I check out some places and the first thing I found was it was very comfortable,” Chapman said. “The owners were very welcoming and engaging.”

Footage Society is also a sponsor of local professional boxer Demond Nicholson.

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“It is the best shoe spot around,” Nicholson said. “I’ve been collecting shoes for seven years. They’ll get whatever shoes you need. They love what they do.”

Last year, Verdejo retired from her job as an auditor with the federal government to work full time at Footage Society. She and co-owners Tyler Copeland and David Louie, plan to host numerous events at the store from classes to various sneaker exhibits like the one it hosted in early February in celebration of Black History month.

“It was our biggest event since we had our grand opening,” Verdejo said. “We had the mayor here and a council member.”

Footage Society has also always offered shoe cleaning and painting services, which are Verdejo’s specialties. In March, she plans to offer a class on the skill to businesses outside of the area.

“If the soles are yellow, I can lighten them up,” Verdejo said. “I can condition leather and suede."

One time, she cleaned a pair of expensive sneakers that had been egged by a spouse going through a divorce.

“The insides had been pulled out and egged,” Verdejo said. “I had to leave the door open it smelled so bad.”

A basketball hoop will also be set up on the side of the building during March Madness. Customers will have the opportunity to shoot as many basketball possible in a minute for chance at store discounts.

Verdejo would also like to see the outside wall of the store become a graffiti mural, where anyone can paint something on the building. She is talking with the city about the necessary steps needed to allow that to happen.

“We are a destination shop,” said Verdejo, adding that its walk-in customers have become a little more diverse since moving to the Washington Boulevard location, though it is only one of many changes she has seen in the business.

“I have seen more stores opening up and stores closing,” Verdejo said. “There are more online sales and it is more hype-driven. More designers and more younger kids.”

It is a business she is happy to be doing.

“I had a high-clearance job, but I didn’t want that life for me anymore,” Verdejo said. “This ... was a complete lifestyle change and what I wanted to do. This is us.”

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