You’re walking up Mass Ave near Northeastern University’s campus in Boston, Massachusetts. To your left is the urban equivalent of a strip mall, done all in concrete. To your right is the biggest Christian Science Center you’ve ever seen — if you’ve ever seen one of those crazy organization’s outposts at all.
As you head north, you pass a costume store, a post office and other nondescript stores. You probably dodge a biker in Sperrys, merrily going about his day, or a polite-looking girl in a coral-colored cardigan sweater (this is after all Boston, a city so preppy that it’s exceptional even in a region as preppy as New England). But as you turn down Clearway Street, the air changes. You can tell you’re nearing something special.
Because you’re an in-the-know streetwear kid; you know what you’re looking for: the number 6. 6 Clearway Street. And as you reach your destination, you’re presented with the drab storefront of a non-distrcipt bodega. And though it may not look like much, you know you’ve arrived at the place you’ve been looking for: the streetwear institution known as Bodega. As you pass through the door in front of you, you make your way through the cluttered shelves of Clorox bleach and Kleenex tissues and position yourself in front of what looks like a Snapple vending machine. This slides away (it was a door all along) to reveal the luxuriously wood-paneled and perfectly decorated walls of Bodega.
If you know nothing about Bodega, read this article from Boston Magazine. It will give you all the background you need about the store. We don’t have time for all that here. What we’re concerned about with this article is how Bodega has crushed the collaboration game.
If you read no further than here, we’ll let you know the secret that Bodega has clearly discovered and capitalized on since the store came to be, in the mid-’00s. Aspiring entrepreneurs take note: if you build a streetwear destination that is home to a cult following of consumers, collaborators will come a-knocking. Oh, and every time you release a shoe, make sure it’s absolutely, completely, earthshakingly awesome. Obviously.
This brushes over the things that the men behind Bodega (Jay Gordon, Oliver Mak and Dan Natola) did to create their niche following. It probably has something to do with the fact that when a first-time customer finally finds their unique store, he or she feels a deep sense of connection with the experience, and thus also with the always-well-stocked-with-rare-and-limited-edition-gear store.
Reebok x Bodega Escape Pack and Bodega x Saucony Elite Shadow 6000 Pack
Bodega’s cult has made the store an international player in the sneaker game, and as such the store and label have worked with the biggest brands in the game. The Bodega X Reebok Escape Pack from back in 2008 was a masterclass in retro styling. The Bodega X Converse Jack Purcell Mid used flannel before flannel made its comeback. We still want, but can’t get, the Bodega X Reebok Pump 20th Anniversary Sneakers. The Bodega X Saucony Elite Shadow 6000 pack was another absolute original.
Bodega Black Ops Backpack by Joel Storella and Bodega x Ironlak Paints “Murdered Out” Can
But, Bodega’s collaborations aren’t confined to just the world of sneakers: the Bodega X Ironlak Paints “Murdered Out” can is the kind of cross-over release that still gives us goosebumps today — (is that too much?). The Bodega Black Ops Backpack by Joel Storella goes for $10,500 … and looks like it should go for even more. The ‘Vault by Vans X MLB Boston Red Sox Authentic LX for Bodega’ sneaker and jersey crushed. Bodega knows that, especially in streetwear, diversity is the spice of life.
Bodega Boston is no longer the in-the-know-only secret it once was (though surprisingly I’ve spoken to a number of non-Boston and NYC-based streetwear kids who still don’t know about it or how to find it), and in a world that’s built so entirely on exclusivity, this could pose a problem to the store and brand in the near future. But Bodega maintains its appeal through limited releases and … duh, collaborations … and it shows no sign of slowing down. After all, the store basically invented exclusivity in this marketplace; Gordon, Mak and Natola know what they’re doing. They know what their cult wants.