I consider myself a cynic in every way and very rarely am I impressed. Even in the few times that I am impressed I go through lengths to conceal it. Not today. As I walked into NoJo Kicks, sitting near the corner of Library St. and Gratiot in downtown Detroit, no amount of cynicism could offset the feeling of euphoria I was experiencing as a lifelong sneakerhead. I remember walking in, shaking hands, and seeing people’s mouths move as if directing dialogue in my direction but all I remember hearing is Isiah Thomas singing the Ohio players song “Heaven Must Be Like This” much like he did after winning his first NBA championship. 30 minutes later after I recovered from fainting, I looked around the store and was in awe of their sneaker selection. The whole south wall of the store was completely hidden behind shelves of designer sneakers. Hundreds of exclusive sneakers made available to the public. And if they didn’t have anything you were looking for they would try to find it for you, for a price. They had everything from old school Nike Air Force 1’s to Yeezy Red Octobers. From Drake’s Air Jordan OVO collaboration to player exclusives. This was Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and I had a golden ticket. No, scratch that, Detroit has a golden ticket and Dan Gilbert has made a golden investment. In the midst of all things negative that the city is experiencing right now (bankruptcy, crime, blight, etc.) here comes a silver lining. Detroit’s recovery will be a long, steady process but NoJo Kicks plans to be a part of that recovery process. They could’ve set up shop just outside the city, like most of their competitors, but they chose to make Detroit their home. That’s saying a lot without saying anything at all.
The story of NoJo Kicks (named after part owner Andy Beletskiy’s sons, Noah and Jordan) began just over 2 years ago. Back then Aaron Fields (age 24) was working at a local Footlocker. Andy Beletskiy (age 43) was a father of 2 sons who were sneakerheads in training. It was during these back and forth trips to the store that Andy and Aaron met and developed a friendship. Influenced by the love of sneakers exhibited by his sons, Andy found himself becoming infatuated and then educated in sneaker culture by Aaron. Out of that friendship sparked a mutual interest to open up their own store. But, by this time Aaron had been lured away from Footlocker to manage another sneaker store, Villa, with his friend Matthew Caputo (age 26). 7 months later Matt got on board and the trio initiated a plan of action that would take 2 years in the making. During this time each of them, specializing in different facets of their business plan, used their connections, resources, and knowledge to bring together every component necessary for their success. Just gathering the stock alone was a 2 year endeavor. They had to physically travel as far as Los Angeles and New Orleans just to secure the sneakers that would make their brand unique. Darryl, aka “Clue”, was brought in just this past March to redesign their website as well as set up their POS system and social networking. Finally on June 23rd at 9 a.m., with over 150 people eagerly waiting in line, NoJo Kicks opened its doors.
There are plenty of sneaker boutiques scattered around the Metro Detroit area, so what makes NoJo Kicks so unique? Is it its location and ties to the city? Could be. Is it the very limited edition sneakers they have in stock? Maybe. Is it the Flight Club-esque model of reselling that they’ve seemed to expand on? Possibly. For me, it was walking into that store and seeing them enjoy being there as much as I did. The pure, unfiltered, genuine love of being a sneakerhead. It almost came off as if the true goal was to create a sneaker haven (or heaven, depending on your level of worship of all things sneaker related) for themselves to enjoy and that money was a collateral benefit. Even down to the environment they provide for their employees is surreal. Its like Google headquarters but smaller… and full of shoes. They have a video game system set up in their employee area!! I work for a billion dollar company and they can’t even keep the vending machines stocked. I know that now a days hyperbole gets thrown around more than Beyonce’s hair during the “Single Ladies” number at one of her concerts, but believe me when I tell you that it’s not just about the shoes. If you’re still looking for a reason to be impressed then just look at the fact that 3 young men (for the sake of this article lets assume 43 is still young, lol. Sorry Andy) from Detroit with different backgrounds, cultures, and races were able to come together to do something positive and base their success back in Detroit. Giving back to their city when their city was in need in an effort to uplift a once great mecca. That in itself sounds like a screenplay worthy of a sneakerhead Lifetime made for TV movie.
Nojo Kicks, Dan Gilbert, and other small businesses are showing and proving that Detroit is worth investing in. They are showing that they have held onto their optimism in Detroit’s future despite the evidence of current circumstance. While others have given up they are pitching in. And that’s the real story. Beyond the layers of this post lies a true story of 3 entrepreneurs being a part of something big, Detroit and its redemption. When you invest in a city you invest in its people, and when you invest in its people you raise their level of pride and moral. That’s when great things begin to happen. Because people start to believe in themselves again. They’ll soon start to believe in Detroit again. And If you ever find yourself starting to doubt in the potential that is Detroit and its future just head on down to 1220 Library St. Detroit, MI. And to think that at one time we used to look down at shoe salesmen.