Sold out online, but on the shelves in downtown Lawrence; new shoe store focuses on sought-after sneakers

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Elevate, 943 Massachusetts, features hard to find sneakers. The "lobster orange" Nike pair is currently the shop's hottest and most expensive, offering at $1,100.

To the uninitiated, Elevate, the new storefront at 943 Massachusetts St., might look like nothing more than a shoe store.

But to those who are into sneaker culture, the new store might come off more akin to a magic shop.

“Most of the shoes here are sold out online,” Ethan Bentzinger, a co-owner of Elevate, said, pointing to a wall full of shelves with bright shoes that a middle-aged man like myself can only assume are hip. (I’m told using the word “hip” is perhaps not the best credential for that sentence.)

Whatever you want to call them, sneaker fans understand the rarity involved, and might wonder how such sought-after shoes end up in a small shop in downtown Lawrence.

Circuitously is one answer.

While Bentzinger wasn’t eager to reveal any secrets of the trade, he said the shop works with about 60 individuals across the country who provide the shoes on a consignment basis. Those individuals do everything from standing in line at special release events — “sneaker drops” — hosted by the shoe brands to participating in online lotteries where a chosen few get a chance to buy the newest releases from the hottest designers from brands like Nike, Jordan and even New Balance, which at some point became hip.

These days, the online buying events are far more common than the in-person release events, Bentzinger said. How Elevate’s connections manage to win the chance to buy shoes in these online events are trade secrets that a man wearing cowboy boots was unlikely to learn. Bentzinger said bots, the automated programs that can scan websites, are used in some cases, but probably not as often as many people think.

“You have to pay for a lot of other things that people don’t realize with that,” Bentzinger said. “That’s just a few people who are able to do that efficiently.”

In terms of what does work. “It is about the connections everybody has,” Bentzinger said, without elaborating.

He also said a big part of the equation is persistence, but luck also plays into it. It has to because some of these events happen so quickly.

“The most popular releases, after two minutes they are sold out,” Bentzinger said.

It can be a profitable two minutes, though, if you can get your hands on shoes.

“When Travis Scott is releasing a shoe, everyone is going for that shoe,” Bentzinger said of the rapper who has shoes under the Nike brand. “People who resell shoes buy those shoes for $150 and resell them for $1,000. That is like the luckiest you can get.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Ethan Bentzinger, co-owner of Elevate, is pictured at the store, 943 Massachusetts St., on Feb. 28, 2024.

New release events are happening all the time, and the shop is getting shipments from around the country on a regular basis. All the shoes are new, and the shop strives to have a full selection of sizes for any shoe that it stocks. It also takes requests from customers. Someone will come in looking for a particularly difficult shoe to find, and if Elevate doesn’t have it in stock, it will send out word to its team of consigners to try to get their hands on a pair.

Of course, there is a price to pay for all of that. The shop isn’t a lesson in magic as much as it is in supply and demand. Prices for the shoes are higher than what you could buy them for from the brands themselves. But, of course, that’s the point — buying from the brands is difficult due to limited supply.

Bentzinger said shoe prices in the shop currently range from $100 to $1,100. The $1,100 pair, in case you are interested in looking really fly (again, I’m told, not helpful), are a pair of Nike Dunks created in partnership with the specialty boutique designer Concepts in the much sought-after “orange lobster” color. If none of that makes sense to you, know that it comes in a special box too.

Bentzinger has been selling shoes in Lawrence for about five years, creating a strong base of customers through word of mouth and online. His business partner is based in New York, and has his own set of connections both with buyers and consigners.

While business without a brick-and-mortar storefront was good, Bentzinger said the idea of growing the customer base by having an actual location was too tempting. And he said the idea of putting it in Lawrence made good sense, even though most people expect to see a shop like this in a larger city.

The presence of KU and its Division I athletes makes Lawrence a good shoe market. The athletes themselves are often sneaker aficionados, but so too are many of the fans who come to town to root for the Jayhawks. Many of those fans make their way downtown for meals or entertainment before or after games, and now they are discovering they can do some high-end sneaker shopping too.

“The organic foot traffic changes a lot,” Bentzinger said.

The shop also sells new, sought-after clothing. That inventory features brands like Sp5der and Essentials, although the brands are known to change as the trends change. Bentzinger said it is not too difficult to keep up on those trends.

There are lots of walking billboards in this business, after all.

“It is definitely the people,” Bentzinger said of what drives the trends. And when he says people, he means famous people. Athletes and rappers are big influencers in the shoe world, and increasingly in the world of hoodies and other clothing. The industry has achieved the trick of making their product about more than just their product.

“If you are wearing Jordans, people know the style you have,” Bentzinger said of the appeal.

That is, if you know how to find them in the first place.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The showroom floor of Elevate, 943 Massachusetts St., is shown on Feb. 28, 2024.


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