On the edge of New York’s bustling Soho district is a basement sneaker store called Rare Pair. A hidden gem, the Mulberry Street shop trades in some of the most exclusive kicks in the world.
Founded in 2013 by co-owner Erick Pavon, it has a reputation as the go-to spot for hard-to-find items such as a coveted Nike Air Max 90 x Virgil Abloh sneaker or a size 22 sample shoe from basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal. To fill its shelves, the store relies on consignments from sneakerheads.
Rare Pair also is known for its personal feel. The atmosphere makes shoppers so comfortable, in fact, that sometimes they turn into friends and employees. Joel Nuñez, for instance, started out as a customer and is now creative director. “I visited the store for a trade and eventually came back to hang out. Now I do the photography and image editing,” said Nuñez.
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The combination of sneaker fervor and the desire for individuality is what gives Rare Pair its edge. “We like to go above and beyond with everything we do, and sneakers are part of it. It’s just who we are,” said Pavon. “If we worked for a regular retail store, we’d be working for somebody [else], and we don’t want that.”
Rare Pair originated from a quick phone call between Pavon and a friend. “I was in between college semesters, and my friend at the time called me and wanted to do something in this space. It took me half a second to say yeah,” recalled Pavon.
In 2015, he brought on now co-owner Sammy Ismail to help elevate the aesthetic of the store, which features a freestanding glass case, bamboo shelving and an artificial waterfall. “There were no [outside] interior designers; all of this stuff was freestyled,” said Ismail. “Some people who come in here are designers, and they ask us who did this.”
Along with stepping up Rare Pair’s design, the duo is continuing to build their business with a stronger online presence.
Ismail has experience as the founder of the notorious eBay reselling page New York Company. The business garnered attention in 2014 when he posted several pairs of the Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October” shoe for $20,000 before their release date. The famous listing even made it into the Kanye West song “All Day.”
Before Ismail joined, Rare Pair struggled to establish its digital operations. “It took three or four months until we had a website, and it was garbage,” said Pavon. “It was a plain, boring website, but it did its thing. Now we are starting to integrate eBay [into our sales strategy], and a few thousand people visit our website a week.”
The Rare Pair team understands that to stick around in the modern sneaker market, they need to pull in more revenue from online. “In-store drives the most sales for us, but we are looking to transition to online because we will be able to expose ourselves to millions of people,” said Pavon.
Alongside operating its own website, Rare Pair plans to make a bigger push on eBay in the coming months. “Online accounts for not much [of sales] right now because the website doesn’t have a lot of updated pictures, but we are doing that right now and every day,” said Ismail.