Shelves of sneakers in Portland's Index store.
Shelves of sneakers in Portland's Index store. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

When you think of high culture, you might think about New York, or London, or Milan. But in the sneaker world, the hub of high athletic world culture is Portland. And many people in the city – like Bobby Jackson – are shoe obsessed.

"I think what it was — when I was younger, my dad gave me one pair of shoes, all black," Jackson said. "And he said, ‘It goes with everything, so you’re wearing these.’ I was pretty upset, and so I think that challenged what I’m in today.”

He now has about a hundred pairs of sneakers. “Other people have art, this is a different form of art,” he said. 

Jackson was one of about 20 customers on a recent Saturday in a sneaker consignment shop called Index. Some of the sneakers are $79, while others are as much as $4,000. Index co-owner Terrance Ricketts said that besides reselling other people’s sneakers, his store also spends a lot of time facilitating third-party deals.

“People meet in our store and do third-party sales all the time. We don’t mind, because it’s a safer place to get it done,” Ricketts said. “You’re not going to get robbed in some parking lot if you’re buying sneakers from some random person.”

 The sneaker industry generates about $20 billion in revenue in the U.S., while the resale sneaker market generates about $1 billion each year. In Portland, that means there’s lots of specialty sneaker stores like Index. The city even has a sneaker cart, which is like a food cart, but for sneakers.

Much of this sneaker love affair is driven by the fact that Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Keen, and Columbia all keep corporate offices in the metro Portland area. And with the sneaker industry comes big-time sneaker enthusiasts.

Like Jimi Taylor. He moved to Portland from Australia with his wife so he could be closer to the sneaker industry. “Both of us moved out here, sold everything, moved out here with two suitcases,” he said.

“Since I was a little kid, I played sport growing up,” Taylor said. “Always played sport, always loved art. I think I still have a whole sketchbook of designs for shoes I did when I was nine years old.”

Taylor is a designer at Ghost Works, a top shoe design firm in Portland. He said his wife made him move to Portland to chase his shoe dreams. Taylor – who had never worked in shoe design before – said it was the one of the best decisions of his life.

 “It’s the sneaker Mecca of the world,” he said.