Sole-to-sole, sneaker heads swap stories at Pittsburgh Sneaker Convention

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They came bearing sneakers.

Boxes and boxes of sneakers streamed into the August Wilson Center, Downtown Saturday for the inaugural Pittsburgh Sneaker Convention -- carried by owners who paid a $20 fee in hopes of trading or selling their prized pieces of footwear.

The conference was organized by Talk of the Town, an event planning company, and Friendship sneaker restoration and consignment business ReFresh (

"I've been to conventions in Baltimore, Philly, New York," said Sean Devine, a co-founder of ReFresh. "Those cities are about the same size as ours so I thought, why can't we have one here?"

Mr. Devine, wearing immaculate footwear like virtually all other attendees, has been collecting sneakers for about 10 years and has never seen the market so hot. People (mostly men) of all ages and races came to the convention center, looking at sneakers in hues ranging from hot pink to Tiffany blue.

Mike Angelone, 31, of Mount Washington came just to display his carefully cultivated sneaker collection, from sneakers that he wore in high school to two pairs of the Kanye West Air Yeezy II sneakers -- one in each color -- worth several thousand dollars each. Of the 60 pairs he had on display, passers-by were drawn immediately to those two, with several asking if they could touch them and then gently doing so.

"Every shoe I got has a story," said Mr. Angelone, recounting how he bought one of the Air Yeezy shoes from a dealer on a trip to California.

He started buying the shoes in high school -- as a Michael Jordan fan, he felt closer to the star "if I could wear what he wears." As the shoes accumulated, it became a hobby.

The sneaker trade now "is the height of what I've ever seen," he said, watching teenage and pre-teen boys, some with their mothers, parading through the convention carrying boxes of sneakers.

Manufacturers have been releasing an extremely limited number of new sneakers, he said, driving up prices and demand. One sneaker in his collection, a denim Pitt Panthers Darrelle Revis shoe, is one of only 224 ever made.

It was last summer, standing in line overnight in a Monroeville Mall parking lot, that Kevin Davis, a ReFresh co-founder, got the idea to start the business. There were about 600 people trying to get a pair of the Nike LeBron "South Beach" shoe and Mr. Davis decided that this market could probably support a business.

Neil Tucker of ReFresh sat at Saturday's convention painstakingly painting the bottom of a sneaker mint green -- a custom job someone had ordered. He will also bleach yellowed sneaker parts using the sun in an incremental process that can take weeks.

The company, which has more than 13,000 Instagram followers, is operating out of a home in Friendship but plans to open in a storefront on Penn Avenue in October.

"It's one of those niche things if you're from the outside looking in you might not really understand it," Mr. Devine said. "But for the insiders, it's huge. It's crazy right now."

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Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.


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