The Sock Hop Finds Its Niche in Nolita

Though not the only sock shop in New York, The Sock Hop is one of just a handful focused on the growing specialty market.

The long, narrow, 550-sq.-ft. store in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood is dedicated to carefully arranged socks and hosiery by the likes of Falke, Henrick Vibskob, Bresciani, Ozone and Hansel from Basel.

Founded in 2010 by brothers Vincent and Ted Nasserbakht, The Sock Hop offers hundreds of options for men and women in a variety of pop colors, intricate patterns and amusing designs. (The two come from a retail family and moved to New York from Chicago.) The idea, they said, came from an affinity for accessorizing that both have had since childhood.

“I remember going to high school dances and always having bright, colorful stuff that was really fun,” said Vincent. “Everyone’s wearing a suit, and when you look down, you see really wild socks. It kind of breaks your expectation a little bit.”

For The Sock Hop, quality is essential when it comes to socks. “If you wear a nice dress shoe, it’ll feel nice when you’re wearing a nice sock,” said Vincent. “If you have a lot of synthetic in it and you have a rub that’s irritating you, there’s no point of having a nice dress shoe.”

As a result, the majority of The Sock Hop’s offering consists of socks made of natural fibers that retail for $12 to $30, with cashmere product costing more. “There’s a huge tactile sense to different things [in the store],” said Ted, noting materials include hemp, camel hair, silk, wool, cotton and linen.

“We’re essentially one product differentiated a variety of ways,” added Vincent, “but everybody is very particular [about it].”

The Sock Hop’s clientele includes both locals and European tourists, as well as a range of age groups. While the female shoppers are mostly young post-collegiate women, men of all generations regularly visit the shop looking for both classic and novelty socks.

For its regular customers and neighbors, the store hosts Sock Hop Sessions, a series of live shows and concerts that evoke the store’s namesake — the 1950s American dance party, where high schoolers take off their shoes. “They’re pretty fun and everyone has feet [to sell to],” said Ted. The events have featured performances by musicians such as Plates of Cake, Rayland Baxter and Zachary Cale. “It’s a nostalgia thing,” said Vincent. “We like to have fun here.”

The entertainment is also a way for the duo to make the most of their space in an expensive neighborhood. The Sock Hop opened in the midst of a difficult economic environment in New York, and at first, the brothers said they faced challenges figuring out how to sustain such a niche business.

“We’re probably one of the oldest stores on the street,” said Vincent. “We’ve walked that line by being relevant without being trendy.” Although they declined to reveal sales numbers, they said business has grown steadily every year. “We’ve been solvent from the beginning,” said Vincent, “adjusting expectations on the fly to make sure we can meet the demands of our customers.”

And The Sock Hop’s vendors said they appreciate the store’s unique focus.

“They offer a calm setting from the hectic pace of the city to get away and just think about pampering yourself and your feet or legs,” said Russel Klein, president of Easton International Inc., the exclusive sales agent of Falke in the U.S. “You are free to roam the wonderful world of patterns, colors, anklets, tights, over-the-knee socks, etc.”

Hanna Byun, creative director of Hansel from Basel, which has been with The Sock Hop since the store opened, agreed: “You seldom see a tastefully put together sock store. Vince has a unique eye and is able to carry an assortment that is both wearable and focused on quality.”

In addition to socks and hosiery, the store carries leather goods and other accessories, and operates a custom T-shirt business, which has been part of the family for many years. Today, Ted is an apprentice to their father for that enterprise, which accounts for 25 percent of sales, with the remaining coming from socks and hosiery.

Going forward, Vincent and Ted plan to grow the shirt section, as well as the main business, and recently launched an online store. One way to accomplish their goals, they explained, is to show customers how to liven up their outfits with socks.

Vincent said, “Natural fibers and vibrant colors are [things] we like to offer consumers who were reared on nylon, one-size-fits-the-world black socks.”