Situated on North Second Avenue, a seemingly quiet street in Philadelphia’s charming historic district of Old City, is a pretty brick building housing a little skate shop called SkateNerd.
While the shop’s underlying focus is on skateboarding and art, it’s everything else that the shop supports and does that makes it so refreshingly unconventional.
“We crash parties with our uncoolness,” says Brian Nugent, a Philly skater and graphic artist who cofounded the store in March 2002 with fellow local skater Metal. Full of art galleries, Old City is the high-priced part of town to live in, explains Nugent. “We have the oldest street in America. Just across the street and on the first Friday of every month all the art galleries stay open late and party.”
Nugent used to do Journal, a glossy East Coast skateboard ‘zine in the mid 90s. He joined forces with Metal in 2000 and launched Skatenerd.com, a Philly-focused skateboarding-inspired and -related Web site featuring well-articulated and often cheeky commentary on the local skateboard scene.
The shop shares its space with R.E. Load Baggage, a company that makes handmade messenger bags. “Our business has no crossover,” says Nugent, “except for my custom SkateNerd bag.”
What makes SkateNerd so different from most other skate shops is the scope and depth of what it offers its customers. This ranges from an impressive collection of skateboard-related literature and an organized archive of old skateboard magazines-some dating back to the late 70s-to art, collectibles, and used skateboard clothing and hardgoods. The shop carries a handful of decks strictly from art-based brands it supports from Girl and Chocolate to European brands such as Blueprint and Cliché. SkateNerd even carries copies of the original architectural blueprints of LOVE Park for sale.
But that’s not all. The shop also features an art gallery and regular exhibitions with art for sale, video premieres, displays of original skatepark designs, and the sales of design services. In addition, SkateNerd works actively with locals on their own personal projects, makes nonprofit contributions to a plethora of great causes, including the Franklin’s Paine-an organization to bring Philly skaters a street-inspired skatepark, and working with the Patrick Kerr skateboard scholarship fund. It also works with other shops and has created its own SkateNerd clothing line available to shops everywhere.
It’s like a freakin’ cultural center for skateboarding in Philly. Asking Nugent what unique things SkateNerd does that most other skate shops don’t, he replies nonchalantly: “We’re nice to dorky kids because we know how they feel.
“We feel that something has been missing with traditional skateboard shops,” Nugent continues. “We want to carry products that we stand behind, not just products that sell well.
“Skateboarders need more resources available at their local shop, and we wanted to provide that. Also dealing with the skateboard business we get to be involved in the creativity of the industry. Having full control over our work life was also a huge factor. We (Nugent and Metal) both had experiences where our jobs didn’t provide us with enough freedom to be more productive and creative,” he adds.
Through the shop and the Web site, SkateNerd has been able to provide information to the skateboard community about things such as skatepark design, politics about laws that affect skateboarders, local nonprofit projects, and art created by skateboarders. This is in addition to organizing all types of events, from fundraising to skateboard video releases. Clearly, the role the shop plays in the local scene beyond providing equipment is huge. In fact, providing equipment hardly seems to be the focal point for SkateNerd, which only has a retail floor area of 300 square feet that’s shared with R.E. Load. The basement of the store is even smaller at 140 square feet and is where Skatenerd.com and its design office is based.
As a result, SkateNerd’s average customer isn’t the standard preteen skate-grom. “We started with the mature and dedicated skateboarder in mind,” explains Nugent. “Over the past few months we’ve noticed that we have an appeal to teenage skateboarders who consider the lifestyle of skating-from politics to art and culture,” says Nugent, adding that their average customer is usually over eighteen and very interested in the arts as well as skateboarding. And as awareness of the shop grows locally, younger and curious skateboarders are spending more time at the shop on the weekends.
“Our average customer is a very nice person and isn’t such an average guy or girl,” adds Metal.
It’s pretty impressive that SkateNerd has managed to do all this in just a year of the shop being open. Clearly it’s a time-demanding effort that Nugent and Metal have made, and their role in the shop is all-encompassing. “We run things from top to bottom,” says Nugent. “We’ve created the concept and maintain everything. We work every day from 11:00 a.m. into the night, managing the store and our clothing line. We both have backgrounds in business and management from previous jobs, and we try to stay in full control-yet are open to friends’ ideas and suggestions.”
SkateNerd clothing was created to promote the shop and Web site. Nugent and Metal recently put together a team for the softgoods brand, hand-selected on the basis of both ability and creativity. The team features Scott Minton, Scott Kipp, Phil Jackson, and Jake Lewis, who is also interning at the shop.
Metal and Nugent are obviously very involved in developing skateboarding and its awareness within their community. Nugent says they’re led by their desire to see change and action. “We are also led by wanting to see our ideas come to life,” he says. “We have a lot of background in fields that most skate-shop owners do not have, for example, photography, design, and Web development. We like to see our skills get put to use within the skateboard community.”
Considering the shop is unconventional in what it carries, the emphasis the shop places on hardgoods versus softgoods is relatively insignificant to Nugent and Metal. After all, SkateNerd offers stuff that most shops don’t. And while one of its focuses is to create and distribute its SkateNerd line of clothing, its admittedly most interesting product focus is in art and media. “We carry a wide range of unique, creative softgoods, such as books and back issues of magazines, not carried in the mall,” says Nugent. “We carry a limited amount of hardgoods and collectibles. Footwear has been a consideration but is not within our current budget.”
While footwear tends to be a skate shop’s cash cow, a modest approach to business is SkateNerd’s key to success. However, the shop has only been open for just over a year, and Nugent says they’re still trying to figure out what the schedule of product turnaround will be. “The money we spend on promotions is very important to us, looking for ways to cut costs yet still be seen-for example, our Web site, postcards, art shows, and posters,” he says, adding that skateboarding’s growth in popularity over the years is what has encouraged them to be more unique.”Our location is kind of far from popular youth shopping areas by about ten blocks, so bad weather really cuts down on our ‘off the street’ traffic,” says Nugent. Kerry Getz’s shop, Nocturnal, is on South Street-the most popular place for young people to hang out and shop. “However, our products and art gallery bring people in who are looking for something interesting regardless of weather. Our gallery openings brings in a lot of traffic every month as well.
We haven’t really been open long enough to make a solid assessment,” he adds.”Our shop location doesn’t deliver a lot of parents and young kids,” says Nugent. “Skateboarding’s growth and popularity inspired us to work against the grain and provide some friction to the mainstream.”
And while they’ve definitely done a great job of working against the grain, Nugent and Metal have made
their mistakes and learned some lessons over the past year. Typical of most start-up businesses, SkateNerd wasn’t started with a lot of cash, explains Nugent: “A better investment of either a loan or savings would have made it easier to run the shop without distraction of other paying projects.”Not putting things off to the last moment has also been a lesson learned,” he adds. But knowing what they know now, they’re quick to say that they would still get into their business if they had to do it all over again. “Yes, we would just do it better from the start. We try new things because of our interest in them, not because of the economy.”
Presented with the idea that social and political awareness aren’t common characteristics amongst skate-shop owners, Nugent is quick to disagree: “Maybe that’s because the other active skate-shop owners stick out in my mind. I don’t really notice the shops that are run by non-skaters.
“The reaction to our activism has been mixed, depending on the project and the other people behind them. Some skaters are totally behind projects, and some people don’t feel that some of the projects stand for their beliefs. We understand this and know that we can’t satisfy everyone. It gets to the point where you need to make a decision and stick with it until the project produces something you are happy with.
“The local community is very diverse and has many different ideals as to how things should be done, for example FDR skaters versus LOVE Park skaters. But the skateboard community at large seems to generally be stoked on projects like Franklin’s Paine and the Skateboard Scholarship,” he adds.
Nugent ends the conversation humbly: “We’re excited about inspiring others to get involved in skateboarding more than just riding a skateboard. We don’t look at skateboarding as a sport but more as an art form.
“We enjoy what we do and don’t see enough solid success to feel like we have made a real contribution just yet,” he says. “Even if we did, isn’t that what skateboarding is about, having fun and helping your friends?”