New York's Sneaker Boom

As rare shoes soar in price, seventh-graders make like Wall Street traders.

The strategy is harder than it looks. This is Sneaker Con and this is New York City—not a lot of rubes here. People prowl between the rows of vendors, holding a sneaker over their heads with one hand and, in the other, a shoebox serving as a display rack. Flea-market banter fills the air over the hip-hop pouring through the sound system. For every 20 negotiations, there might be one sale.

Ramos has been striking out. His two prize items, silver Lebron Xs and green Durant Vs, haven't drawn much interest, even though he's offering them together for just $5 over retail. The value of certain shoes often seems arbitrary, and Ramos has found himself on the wrong side of the market.

In the sneaker world, Air Jordans are still king, continuing to draw the most dependable demand. So Cordero's Toro Bravos, the red version of the Jordan IVs, easily find a home. The Toros were released just this morning, and Cordero scored a pair at the mall. He hoped to sell them for $300, but settles for $220. In fewer than 12 hours, the value of his purchase increased by 37 percent.

Santiago Felipe

The sneaker boom is partly fueled by the difficulty of actually buying certain pairs at retailers. Demand consistently outpaces supply. Stores like Foot Locker and Champs provide raffle tickets to prospective buyers a few days in advance, and only a select few win the chance to cop the shoes at face value.

After that, the secondary market takes over, where value is formed more by cultural aesthetics than utility. "The sneaker has become the ultimate signifier of one's identity," says Dylan Miner, a Michigan State University professor who has studied modern sneaker culture. And because values are so subjective, it's natural to wonder whether the boom is actually a bubble.

In a few hours, when the vendors begin to pack their unsold goods and the ATM has run out of cash, the laws of economics take hold. Prices drop as sellers hope to clear their stocks before calling it a day.

One young man holds white Foamposites over his head, circling the venue shouting, "Ten-and-a-half on the cheap! Don't sleep, on the cheap!"

A pair of twice-worn Jordan XIs—which had been marked at $450 at the start of the day—go for $280. NetKicks seventh-grader Jake Regino leans back in a folding chair counting out $930 in cash.

As Cordero and Ramos roam the floor, Ramos notes that the kid who bought Cordero's Jordan IIIs is now trying to sell them himself. Ramos jokes that they should try to buy the pair back for $50. Cordero smiles. "The worst thing is if you sell it and then they go out and sell it for more," he says. "But he's not gonna get more than $100. No one's gonna get beat shoes for $100."

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