By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
Perry Shum, 33, was 12 years old when a pair of Air Jordan True Blue’s caught his eye. The shoe was crisp white, simple but detailed with red and blue accents. One of his middle school friends was wearing them, and the rest were anxiously waiting to buy that same pair of shoes. At the time Shum didn’t understand why people were so eager to buy a specific pair of shoes, but after buying his first pair of Air Jordan True Blues he understood why they were worth the wait. His love for sneakers has grown 10-fold since and he began scouting, buying and consigning sneakers.
Shum, a native New Yorker who was born and raised in Queens, is what some may call a “Sneakerhead,” a person who has a strong interest in sneakers and sneaker history, someone who seeks out rare and exclusive sneaker collections to admire, collect and sometimes resell. New York City has long been home to the Sneakerhead subculture, and as high schoolers in 2002, Shum along with his friends, Gregory Lam, 33 and Shu Cheng, 34, who would later become his business partners, were establishing the culture in Queens.
“We saw each other with limited-edition shoes. One of my partners had some OG Jordans, the other had some exclusive dunks and I had different shoes. We all recognized that we didn’t have regular sneakers, sneakers that anybody would have,” Shum says. “We began talking, going to parties, hanging out and hunting for sneakers. It became a ‘thing’ for us.”
At the time, hunting for sneakers wasn’t like it was now, where sneakerheads could easily look online for the next shoe drop. In the early 2000s, hunting for sneakers required a lot of research and travel. Shum and his friends would often make the trek from Flushing, Queens, to SoHo in Manhattan, just to find one pair of shoes.
“It’s not just a shoe that you are wearing every day. The way I see it, it is like you are collecting art,” he says. “It’s something that brings back memories from my childhood. The way I explain it, it’s like people used to collect comic books or baseball cards back in the day.”
Shum spent his high school years hunting and reselling sneakers and even worked part-time at Foot Locker. By the time he and his friends had graduated college, they had still kept in touch and their love for sneakers had remained the same. Upon graduation, the three felt unsure about their careers. Shum was working for the Department of Commerce but wanted to do something more. He pitched the idea to his friends about opening up a sneaker consignment shop in Queens — something that didn’t exist.
“It was something that Queens didn’t have, and we wanted to make it our own. What better place to open it than in Flushing, Queens, which is somewhere we grew up hanging out. Queens has a big Asian community, and it was something we wanted to bring to the area,” he says.
In 2007, the trio created .IMAGE and began selling sneaker-related products and accessories, but by 2011 they had made enough money to open an official sneaker consignment store. .IMAGE first opened a small shop at the New World Mall in Flushing. The store’s popularity grew and three years later they opened a bigger store on Northern Boulevard. Last year they closed that location to open a new store on Main Street.
“We have a strong community in Queens, and we knew a lot of people that supported us in Queens. So instead of fighting with all the competition in the city, we wanted to bring something back to our own hood,” he says. “With limited-edition sneakers, if you have something that people want they’ll travel for it. Customers travel from all over the world to come to see us, so no matter where we were we still had a customer base — but we love Queens.”
.IMAGE currently carries around 1500 pairs of shoes — both new and pre-owned. Shum and his friends continue to do what they loved most as kids: buy, sell, trade and consign shoes. Customers bring in their old, lightly worn or new shoes and they will give them a trade value. The shoes range from $200 to even $14,000 although most shoes are around $200, and their most popular ones tend to be Jordans, followed by Yeezys and Nike Dunks. Shum and his partners also sell their in-house brand of clothing as well as Supreme accessories and limited-edition toys. Their in-house clothing brand bears the same name: .IMAGE, they sell hats, t-shirts and accessories.
“There’s something for everyone,” he says. “When people come to a store, they feel nostalgic because we have shoes they haven’t seen in so many years that they didn’t expect to find. It’s not like walking into a Foot Locker where you know what they are going to have. When you walk into our store, you don’t know what you are going to find.”
For Shum, this is only the beginning as he and his partners have dreams of opening more stores in Queens and maybe some on the West Coast.
You can find .IMAGE at 36-22 Main St. in Queens. Stay updated on new shoe releases and rare shoe finds by following .IMAGE on Instagram.