“Rumors of your hot Niketown run all over Amsterdam,” says the young Dutchman rushing past the giant orange swoosh in the megastore’s futuristic lobby on 57th Street, just east of Tiffany’s.
Despite its fame in Amsterdam, my favorite retail playground is unknown to my neighbors over the age of 35; but, dear reader, you’re in luck.
Here’s my Niketown diary: I’m pulled in by throbbing jazz music and painted slogans: “There’s time to sit when you graduate,” “Run like the Empire State Building, run 1,860 steps, run like the city.”
I am charmed by Niketown salespeople—African-American college students who lend incredible street flair.
Call me a sentimental fool, but talking to brainy, helpful Niketown sneaker experts makes me proud to be an American and fuels my hopes for our future.
I’ll never forget last marathon weekend, when I found myself here trading sartorial tips with heroic Italian and African runners who trump UN delegates in honesty and appearance.
I love Niketown’s sleek black microfiber jackets and tuxedo-like Dri Fit running pants that make me look (in dim light) like a world-class athlete: athletic gear is ageless. As Jackie Collins advised, “As you age, dress butch: you look less frail.”
I hop off the escalator at the third floor where a college senior once gave me the best advice this city walker ever got. She told me the saleswomen buy men’s sneakers: the toe box is higher (roomier), the soles and heels are thicker, and the superior support feels like the shoe is tenderly loving your foot.
Today, a salesman named Janthony Phillips has élan. An Air Force vet and engineering student, he wears a narrow red bracelet with NIKE in tiny letters. I want that bracelet. It turns out to be a rubber band (no longer sold, alas) that cost about 50 cents. When asked, he quickly leads me to the fabulous wearable art that are black and gray short microfiber running gloves (only $15!). Since they’re stretchy, he advises me to get them small; and unbelievably my fingers are mobile, unlike tight leather gloves. Vroom. Vroom. I channel Paul Newman revving a VW with the Porsche engine.
Watching Janthony, I am reminded of Diana Vreeland’s decree: blacks are the only people worth looking at in the street. Maybe it’s confidence—the little hop in Janthony’s knee coupled with an implied swagger that perhaps starts at his elbows.
My favorite third-floor expert is the totally adorable Argenis Lopez, who remembers me. He’s a 19-year old City University student in architecture. Standing proud on the marble floor inlaid with the word “VICTORY,” he wears diamond earrings, a birthday gift from his mother. He bicycles here from Harlem because he doesn’t want to waste $72 on a MetroCard.
Fluent in Spanish and English, his empathy with customers is a triumph. He gets my ongoing need for thick soles because of an old knee injury. His approach to browsing customers is quick, quiet, poised: “Hey guys, how you doin’?” or, “How are you doin’ ma’am? Those sneakers are great if you pronate.”
After greeting me, he dashes away for a catalog displaying upcoming Air-Max dream sneakers—my fantasy come true. The soles are “shox” (heavy separate plastic/rubber springs for flexibility) and the heels are air compressed in plastic.
Back on 57th Street, I pass a fortyish African-American man in a silky, lavender jacket and pants. He wears one red shoe and a matching purple shoe. Embroidered on his jacket: “I know you know that I know.” He acknowledges my thumbs up about his glorious style with a thank you and a movie-star grin.
Susan Braudy is a writer who lives in New York City. Her column appears in this paper every other week.
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