Skate Shop Day 2022 - The Chris Nieratko Questionieratko

Skate Shop Day 2022 - The Chris Nieratko Questionieratko

I'm not sure if I'm qualified to introduce Chris Nieratko, his dedication to skateboarding is somewhat unmatched by most with writing for one of the most subversive print magazines ever, opening the so rightly respected NJ Skate shop, supporting skate shops through 'Skate Shop Day' alongside his friend Scotty Coats and everything else in-between. The people out there would say 'Do your own research!' and that's where I'll take my standpoint with Chris, he's probably one of the most 'googleable' people I've had the pleasure to have correspondence with.
Keeping the topic centric to all things skate shops and Skate Shop Day; Nieratko gave us a everything we needed to know from first store nostalgia through to why is there even a skate shop day?

Verb Excretion by Fraser Doughty

All Images Provided By Chris

Chris Nieratko - Pro Party

What came first, the skater or the skate shop? 

I'm a firm believer that all the best ideas, designs, styles always originate with skateboarders. Skaters are first to everything.  

What's your earliest memory of a skate shop?

In New Jersey in the late 80's we didn't have skates hops that were strictly dedicated to skateboarding. It was always a baseball card or comic book or fishing and gun shop with some skateboards in the back. I grew up loving comic books and when I knew 'skateboarding was everything' that was the day I walked into the comic book store that sold some skateboards and I traded in my four Frank Miller Wolvierines for a brand new Shut Shark. That was the day the deal was sealed and yet that's not my earliest meaningful skate shop memory. That came later, when I visited Ollie Pops in Howell, NJ owned by Bob Losito, who now owns Pro Skateshop in Belmar, NJ. I walked in there for the first time looking for the guns or frisbees or fishing poles and didn't see any of that shit. I only saw skateboards and skateboard related clothes and shoes. I saw a place built just for skateboarders. It was magical.

We knew that when we opened our own shop, NJ Skateshop, in 2003 we wanted to be like Bob: SKATEBOARDS ONLY. I think any skater that walks into a skater owned skate shop made for skaters, by skaters they feel a unique sense of belonging the moment they walk through the door.

If someone told you they wanted to start a skate shop what would be your number one piece of advice?

I'd say find 30 minutes, grab a pen and paper and give me a call. If we're in close proximity, come over and bring wine. Red, if it's cold outside. White otherwise. I'll tell you whatever you need to know to at least get out of the gates, just like Tim and Malcolm of the now defunct but forever legendary PIT CREW skate shop did for me and my partner Steve Lenardo nearly 20 years ago. They helped us dodge a tonne of bullets and so we always pay their kindness forward. Each one teaches another. 

How many times did people tell you it was a bad idea to open up a skate shop?

Actually none because in 2003 we were selling your sister's jeans hand over fist! There weren't enough sisters to keep up with the demand! Skateboarding was massive then. On the flip side, I have had to tell quite a few people over the years that opening a shop was a bad idea for various reasons (timing, dip in economy, bad name selection, wrong intentions, etc.). But even if someone had told us it was a bad idea we wouldn't have listened. Just as no one should listen to me. Skaters learn best by falling repeatedly. 

What more could skate shops do to support one another?

Skate shops make the best shit, hands down and if the 'limited edition' thing is your jam there's nothing more limited than a shop shirt. I always try and grab shop shirts wherever I go as my tourist tee. I'd much rather rock a Welcome Skate Store shirt done by OUR artist, Fos, than a t-shirt from the Royal Armouries Museum done by any of THEIR artists. So I'd say the simplest ways to support shops are to buy something and even if you can't afford to buy something but you dig another shop's designs, repost it in your Instagram stories and let that shop know you dig it. Like I said, skate shops make the best shit so when one of our peers in the shop keepers union says they like our work it hits different.

Is there a ‘distance rule’ between one shop and another, do you think it’s worth two independents inhabiting the same scene?

Shit, I think everyone should have the same opportunity to fulfil their dreams and the local skate scene will decide if two or more shops can be sustained. I've seen towns with massive skate scenes where three shops weren't even enough; I've been to tiny scenes where one shop was too many, haha. My question is always, "What are you doing for your community, your scene?" because if every shop owner is contributing and cultivating a healthy skate scene, and that's what everyone should be doing, then more people doing good should not be a bad thing, right?

As skateboarding has changed how have you seen shops develop with the social-zeitgeist?

I am so blown away and in awe of almost all of my shop owning peers' ability to dig their heels in and really embrace digital commerce. Would they all prefer to have skaters walk through the front door and come hang and chop it up and talk skateboarding? For sure. But we live in an ever changing world and some people just prefer to shop from the comfort of their homes, in their underwear while listening to Gang of Four. Sprinkle a little covid on the situation and you can't expect anyone to want to leave the house or even be allowed to. The fact that I heard of very few shops closing down during the apocalypse thanks to their ability to pivot and lean into their online sales is a testament to the fact that skateboarding will always endure. 

Chris Nieratko - Community Handout

How does a skate shop legitimise itself? Should a store have a front or backdoor, are non-retail space stores supported on Skate Shop Day?

I'll just repeat what we've written on the skate shop day site:  "A Skate Shop Day participating store is defined as a skater owned and operated retailer whose main primary business focuses on full time, physical store locations, with an always on deep rooted commitment to skateboarding, and whose company is independently owned, and not publicly traded. (In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie skate shops – not online retailers or corporate behemoths)."

Most importantly for me, always, is what each shop does for their community. Let's be honest, love is not always unconditional but like Paul said, the love you take is equal to the love you make. If you show your community love you will be shown love in return. So if you think your skate shop is solely a transactional place for commerce you might want to rethink the line of business you're in.

Whilst people have said “retail is dead” skate shops continue to thrive and startup, how have they done it?

HA! "Punk is dead, you're next!" I always loved that line. The only time people say something is dead, aside from, you know, when something literally dies, is when they've left the party and they're lonely. Yes, traditional retail is shifting. People want what they ordered delivered even before they thought to order it. I'm sure Jeff Bezos has already hired an army of psychics to get ahead of that. But skateboarding and skateshops truly offer something that no other industry's retail stores offer: community. You think the hardware store chain is going to bail you out of jail or put you in rehab or lend you a car to get to work because your truck took a shit? No one, in any other field, does that shit. I've talked to cats in other industries; they think we're all crazy. And yet, you can see in their eyes that the words are so foreign and magical that they are envious of not having such a community in their life.

So long answer long, as long as skate shop owners continue to look out for their fellow skaters they will remain an indestructible institution in the hearts and minds of everyone who walks through their doors.

What do we say to the ‘Skate Shop Day is everyday’ crowd?

We say, "You're right! You know what's up and we agree!" We all, as a collective community, should be supporting skate shops every day because they support us every day. But the truth is not everyone has been indoctrinated to think that way and some cats might not skate as much as they used to and their shop visits may be less frequent than in their younger days and so skate shop day serves as a call to action for every skater around the globe to show their local shop some love. And love comes in many forms, right? It can be with a purchase of a shop shirt or it can be bringing the homies a cup of coffee or a sixer or it can be a heartfelt hug or handshake accompanied by words professing how much your local shop keeper means to you. We often forget to tell people what they mean to us and we all should be doing more of that to keep spirits high every day.