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There’s a boutique in downtown’s East Village that’s so down low and underground that if you didn’t know it was there, you’d walk right past it. The customers are the hippest of the hip and the coolest of the cool. There’s virtually no sign outside, but true sneaker freaks know that when it comes to finding the most exclusive kicks, the best shop to cop is Blends. Like it’s owners, Mike Toe and Tak Kato, the store adheres to a Japanese minimalist style. The walls are white and the floors are black—nothing to distract sneaker connoisseurs from exploring one of the best collections of “quickstrike” or “hyperstrike” shoes in the country. Quickstrike or hyperstrike are shoes produced in very limited numbers, making them more valuable to collectors and usually adding a higher price tag. When Blends first opened, East Village, says manager Edwin Negado, “was a war zone.” The neighborhood was a scary combination of drugs, dive bars, and a lot of homeless. “Customers would park in front of the store, come in, shop, and go directly back into their cars,” Negado says. Now, with the addition of Petco Park, the neighborhood has seen a resurgence, with restaurants and other boutiques. Blends carries Nike, Nike SB, Converse, Adidas, Vans, Generic Surplus and Jordans. All of the lines are small-tier versions of the giants, meaning that they’re limited-edition designs and only sold in a small number of handpicked stores. The average customer is an 18 to 45-year-old mad sneaker enthusiast hunting for the most sought-after shoes. When s

neakerheads come to Blends, they speak the lingo—great sneakers are known as sick kicks, heaters, neck breakers, jewels, exclusives, and of course, dope-ass sneakers. The shoes can run anywhere from $70, for Nike SB, to Space Jam Jordans for $175. The gold-standard find is the Air Yezzy’s by Kanye West at $225. Customers can collect sneakers made of deer skin, ostrich, alligator, crocodile, and even stingray. Around payday every week, Negada says, sneakerheads are out in force looking for the dopest shoes. In February, they’ll be at Blends looking for the Copper Nike Foamposite—aka, the “dirty coppers.” The shoe to have for 2010 is the Nike SB P-Rod 2.5, and P-Rod 4, released in August. Sneaker fashionistas understand that shoes make the outfit. From funky laces and crazy fly tongues, if you want to look sick, you have to rock the right kicks to match your gear. Like most hobbyists, sneaker people fear that if they don’t buy “out of print” shoes and “keep ’em on ice,” they may never find them again. Others just prefer to wear them.