From Prison to Shop Owner: How LA’s New Sneaker Impresario Turned $200 Into a Growing Business

Bottom Bunk Sneaker House is not just another shoe store.

For founder and creative director Cole Richman, the new shop on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles is all about his personal story of redemption.

Still relatively new to the footwear and retail industry, Richman’s path to the sneaker game was anything but direct when he started what would eventually become Bottom Bunk after his release from prison in 2020.

“For a lot of my life I’ve struggled with drugs and alcohol,” Richman admitted to FN on a video meeting. “And with that struggle came a revolving door of me going in and out of jail. My most recent sentence was my longest. I went in for eight years at the age of 27.”

Upon his release in May 2020, Richman was sent to a halfway house as part of his conditions of parole. While he was in the house, he noticed his roommate was making money reselling shoes that he purchased on the SNKRS app. “Out of boredom, I asked him what he was doing, and he kind of showed me and told me how he was doing it.”

Bottom Bunk sneaker resale LA
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bottom Bunk

So, Richman made a risky decision to spend the $200 provided by the state upon his release from prison on a pair of “Smoke Grey” Jordan 1s with the intention of reselling them. “I had no idea these were going to end up to being such an in-demand shoe,” Richman said. “So, I decided to keep going. I used the profit from reselling those Jordans to purchase a pair of Yeezys. Resold them, and began working with various brands, using the same methods and abilities that allowed me to survive on the street – except this time, the product was legal.”

“When it came time for me to leave the halfway house, I was well positioned in the shoe world and met a lot of people,” Richman added. The Los Angeles area native then opened an office in the Valley and started to warehouse shoes as business started growing more and more.

With things looking up, he made larger plans for his self-funded business. “I have some bigger ideas for the sneaker world in general, especially because of how disorganized it is and how difficult it is to gain access to these shoes,” Richman told FN. “That’s what the core of the idea for the shoe store came in. I was supplying a lot of the shoe stores around L.A. and was gaining some more legitimacy in this space and kind of getting my name out there. And I was like, you know, opening a shoe store kind of felt like the right idea at the time.”

Focused solely on resale at the moment, Bottom Bunk intrinsically interweaves Richman’s life in prison with his new business prowess. The 3,300 square foot store located at 7519 Melrose Avenue officially opened in November and has already received a warm reception.

Bottom Bunk sneaker resale LA
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bottom Bunk

“Shopping on Melrose — and for shoes in general — can feel very exclusive,” Richman added. “And you know, you could walk into some stores and nobody will ever help you. They almost make you feel kind of stupid for asking a question. So obviously, customer service is priority number one for us. We want people to walk away with like a good shopping experience.”

Ultimately though, Richman wanted his shop to be a welcome escape from the often closed-off community of sneaker resale, especially in L.A.. “Sneaker shops are typically known for being a bit cold and are notoriously unwelcoming to outsiders who aren’t well versed in sneaker culture,” said Richman. “Bottom Bunk is taking strides to change this reputation, and has created an environment known for inclusivity and authenticity in an otherwise closed off community.”

The name “Bottom Bunk” is a reference to the bed that Richman slept in for years while he was in prison. Other elements that are nods to Richman’s time behind bars include the concrete benches, the single payphone hanging on the wall, and black bar finishings around the mirrors. The interior of the store has soft blue paint that is meant to honor the sky, which Cole rarely got to see while locked up.

Bottom Bunk sneaker resale LA
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bottom Bunk

Richman also noted that the space is laid out much different than most other stores, especially in Los Angeles. All of the styles are laid out by size to make it easier to find what’s available. Bottom Bunk also includes a QR code in all of its shoes so that customers don’t have to ask anyone for help if they don’t want and can see the price tag right away as well as other sizes that are available.

Now with a few months under his belt as a full-time retailer, Richman wants to build on his mission to help at risk youth and other individuals that have found themselves in the prison system. Richman noted that he spends time as a mentor to L.A.’s youth and works to create resources to get inmates out of the vicious prison cycle with the goal of serving as a viable resource for those who need some sort of direction when transitioning back into society.

Additionally, Richman spends much of his time volunteering with the residential addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah and is in the process of launching a 501-3C to help ex-cons get mental health treatment, job placements, and housing post-release. “I’m really excited about that opportunity to really start giving back in a bigger way and partnering with different organizations,” Richman added.

“Our goal is to revolutionize the way people are buying resale shoes,” Richman said. “We want it to be an elevated experience with better price points and more accessibility. We’re hoping to expand in the next 12 months, as well. We want to bring this elevated shopping experience to different cities.”

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