CROWN HEIGHTS — Utica Avenue's Alumni sneaker shop is all new kicks, same old soul.
Things haven't always been so chic for the store. Just last year, a 12-year-old boy browsing back-to-school kicks and another shopper, 34, were shot and injured when they were caught in a firefight between the store's then-security guard and a disgruntled shopper he'd tossed earlier that day, according to police.
"We’re slowly transforming into more of a boutique," said store manager David Wu of the longtime Crown Heights concern. "We’re trying to get better and more exclusive products for the neighborhood, and at the same time we wanted to do a new, fresher look in the neighborhood."
The new look is hard to miss on the block. Polished concrete floors and a wood-paneled back wall highlight more than 500 styles of sneakers, an array of custom made caps and stacks of high end denim, all a far cry from the store's previous incarnation.
"People like this would never walk in here 10 years ago — the whole neighborhood is changing," Wu said, indicating a hipster couple who'd come in off the street to browse early Monday afternoon. "We had this idea for a long time, but we were just waiting for the right time to actually do it."
But as the owners hope the name suggests, the store hasn't forgotten its roots, or the neighborhood that has nurtured it for more than two decades.
"Our reputation’s been here for so long," Wu said. "The name itself explains that we’re moving to the next level. We’re graduating from the old name Rugged Sole."
As the store gears up for back to school, Wu said he hopes the store will become a destination for collectors and enthusiasts like him from around the borough.
"I’m a sneakerhead, that’s why I'm here," he explained. "After 15 years in the business, I’m still like a 15-year-old. I just have so much love for kicks."