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SF's Converse Store Opens Friday Feat. Custom Kicks, Local Art

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Photos by Robyn Hagan Cain
Photos by Robyn Hagan Cain

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The new Converse store at 838 Market Street opens tomorrow, it's the largest Converse retail space in the country, and it's a whimsical wonderland for sneaker-loving creative types. There's the standard Converse rainbow of colorful kicks and laces, the full range of higher-end products like the John Varvatos leather sneaks, and—the pièce de résistance—the customization center. What's that you say? You want your Chuck Taylors decked out with polka dots or sea monsters or your own art work? Converse will print 'em up in about 30 minutes (no extra charge!), and send you off with a metaphorical mic drop. Because it's just that badass.

Jon Tappan, general merchandise manager for direct to consumer, gave us a sneak peek at the new digs this week, and we have to admit that the space is impressive. The Market Street outpost may be the brand's fifth stand alone store in the U.S., but it's the biggest Converse retail space in the world. And it's more than a standard retail outlet; it's a big ol' sappy love letter to San Francisco culture, replete with murals from local artists, affirmation-emblazoned seating, and a performance space where Bay Area musicians can rock out.

The 8,500 square foot store has an industrial feel, with exposed concrete floors and wood-and-steel displays. If Portland's motto is "Put a bird on it," Converse's San Francisco response is "Put graffiti on it." Every surface—from walls to ceilings to seating—is covered with art.

That philosophy extends to the dedicated art space upstairs in the Ellis Room, where two large works and 12 pairs of hand-painted shoes by local artist Andrew Schoultz are on display. (Each pair of Schoultz-designed sneakers is one-of-a-kind, and will sell for $400. Proceeds will go to the Precita Eyes Muralists.) Next to Schoultz's work, shoppers can check out a second installation by local photographer Andrew Paynter.

But enough about art. You want to know what you can buy.

On the main floor, you'll find menswear, the Chuck Taylor wall, and a customizing station. Good news for fans of the brand's fancier offerings: This store will have the largest selection of Converse's premium merchandise, like the previously-mentioned John Varvatos designs. The clothing assortment, while not as fashion-forward as a pair of Varvatos Chucks, is what you would expect from Converse: skater/rocker influenced tees and hoodies, with jeans and casual plaid shirts rounding out the mix.

Women and children have to head to the second level for apparel, and can gawk at the reclaimed-sneaker chandelier along the way. Judging from the apparel on the second level, the Converse woman sports a message tee under a washed-leather jacket with a pair of skinny moto-jeans. (Both the t-shirts and the leather are incredibly soft, and worth petting.) The kids' selection—multi-tongued sneakers with contrasting lacing grommets, Dr. Seuss-themed shoes, and brightly-colored letterman jackets—is machine-washable and adorable.

The highlight of the store for any true Converse fan will be the customization lab. Sidle up to the design bar and a trained artist can help you design your own sneakers (or tee or tote). You can either use the design options that Converse has created (thousands of patterns, fonts, and images), or bring in your own artwork. The limitations on your self-submitted artwork are reasonable: It can't be mean, and it must be your own design. (Sadly, this means that we weren't able to customize the Chucks they gave us with our favorite Mean Girls quote, "Don't let the haters stop you from doin' your thang.") Staffers can finish off your shoes with the grommets, studs, and laces of your choice.

Based on the two dozen shoppers who security turned away during the press preview, we expect a spectacle when Converse officially opens on Friday. A graffiti-bedecked, rock-n-roll spectacle.Robyn Hagan Cain

· Converse Store Opening This Summer in San Francisco [Racked SF]
· The Glam Converse Devotee Whose Feet Are Comfier Than Yours [Racked SF]