Sneakerheads: Put a spring into your step

By Jason Cruz

“Third Generation Sneakerheads”: This is how John Mooney describes himself and frequent customers at his Pioneer Square shoe boutique, Gems Sneakershop. Rather than stocking his store with the latest athletic shoes, Mooney carefully selects his inventory by focusing on individual pieces rather than bulk.

“Shopping here is like going to my closet,” Mooney said. According to Mooney, the sneakers at Gems are ahead of the curve and on the cutting edge of fashion. His vision is setting a footprint for the young Seattle urban professional.

Mooney and Katie Oertli opened Gems in June 2008. “[I] wanted to find a place off the beat, and where people would walk by and do a double-take [upon spotting the store],” said Mooney, who is half Korean and half Black. Nestled in a modest building on an unassuming street on Western Avenue, Gems prefers an organic marketing approach which relies on word of mouth for business. The strategy caters to sneaker fans hunting for exclusive and individual shoes like one would seek rare art pieces.

Sneakerhead photo by Jason Cruz

Sneakerhead photo by Jason Cruz

Mooney seeks out trends and believes that there is a great opportunity for Seattle to adapt to the trendsetting East Coast styles. In order to find the hottest shoes, Mooney conducts intensive research, which has included walking the streets of New York City to see what kinds of shoes people are wearing.

Mooney’s dedication to the sneaker market has earned Gems recognition by the New York Times as one of the top five new boutique stores of 2008.

After graduating from Nathan Hale High School, Mooney decided to pursue his passion for fashion in San Francisco.

Starting from scratch, Mooney found a job at Timberland, where he worked in the backroom as a stockperson.

Mooney worked his way up the corporate ladder and was soon traveling across the country for the company. After 12 years with the company, his experiences helped him bring his boutique vision came to life.

The atmosphere at Gems exudes a hip, private club where martinis are sipped by important higher-ups. However, instead of vodka and vermouth, shoes are featured along the backlit cove wall display. Instead of busy bartenders, Mooney offers an amicable smile and up-to-date information about the sneakers in his inventory.

Not only does Gems sell shoes, it blends lifestyle, fashion, and art. Gems participates in the Pioneer Square Artwalk, which is on the first Thursday of each month, by featuring local artists on a wall of his shop. Gems also hold events for fellow sneakerheads. A recent gathering, held on March 4, showed off an exhibit of trophies of Hall of Fame NBA basketball player Bob Cousy. DJ Topspin spun records while shoe enthusiasts checked out the latest kicks in the cove, including the newest PF Flyers, which sponsored the trophy wall.

More goods from The Goods

The Goods, located on Capitol Hill (with a second store soon to be opened in Bellevue), caters to young, male skateboarders. The Goods has mainstream brands such as Nike and Converse in addition to limited edition footwear.

Jesse Robblee of The Goods says many Asian American male sneak-erheads fre-quent the store for “hyped-up shoes” — exclusive shoes touted on message boards and blogs on the Internet. According to Robblee, young Asian American males purchase limited edition shoes including limited release Air Jordans.

Like Gems, Robblee confirms that the “classic, retro look” is doing well. “People are gravitating toward fitted jeans, button-up shirts, and an overall cleaner look,” said Robblee. As far as headwear, “snap back” (non-fitted), trucker, and five-panel hats are taking over fitted New Era caps as the lid of choice for hip and young males. (end)

For more information, visit Gems Sneaker-shop at or The Goods at

Jason Cruz can be reached at

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2 Responses to “Sneakerheads: Put a spring into your step”

  1. Hi, just stopped by doing some research for my Converse site. Lots of information out there. Wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but cool site. Take care.


  1. […] recognition by the New York Times as one of the top five new boutique stores of 2008. story here: Posted by neaat Filed in Uncategorized Tags: “Third Generation Sneakerheads” via […]

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