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May 14, 2015

A first look at Lapstone & Hammer, a Market East sportswear haven for stylish sneaker collectors

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Brian Nadav Lapstone Leah Kauffman/PhillyVoice

Brian Nadav stands in front of his new menswear boutique, Lapstone and Hammer.

Philadelphia sneaker collectors rejoice. Inconspicuously wedged between a nursing uniform shop and the now defunct Armand’s Records at 1106 Chestnut Street, Lapstone & Hammer — the latest retail offering in premium sportswear, is preparing for a soft opening Friday.

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The 4,000-foot space will vend everything from coffee table books, men’s grooming products, Japanese denim and handcrafted European footwear, to men’s performance wear and premium sneakers. The space is also outfitted with a sizeable gallery space and mezzanine pop-up area.

And if sheer space weren't already enough to impress customers, Lapstone & Hammer has been magnificently outfitted by sought-after hospitality designer Kate Rohrer.

“I wanted to create an upscale, sophisticated shopping experience for sneakerheads. This was about creating a higher-end retail space for Philadelphia,” says Brian Nadav, the shop’s owner, who is in the process of renovating the building's facade to its former Art Deco glory.  

The shop is named after the lapstone and the hammer, traditional tools once used by cobblers to assemble shoes. The purpose is to evoke the days of yore, when makers meticulously crafted goods by hand. 

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To illustrate the theme, Nadav has installed in the display window, a cobbler’s workshop to present deconstructed iconic sneakers from the last century. Included in this showcase will be a 1917 Chuck Taylor, the first basketball shoe. The installation is even equipped with a vintage Singer machine from the Clarks factory. He hopes the installation will tell a story of the juxtaposition of old and new, a theme embedded throughout the boutique. 

Deconstruction & reconstruction

1106 Chestnut Street is a fitting home for Lapstone & Hammer. The Market East corridor is a very literal embodiment of deconstruction and reconstruction, where foundations and facades peer out of construction zones from behind a veil of dust and debris. John Connors of Brickstone Realty has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on this block alone.  

Nadav hopes to ride the wave of economic stimulation pouring into the neighborhood. “They’ve been talking about this Market East renovation now for decades, since I was a kid, from City Hall to Independence Hall was a dead zone. It’s finally coming to life," he said. "I’ve been waiting for this block to turn. We wouldn’t put this kind of investment into a space that is not ours, where we could be kicked out at any time." 

The building has auspicious beginnings. It was home to one of America’s first pharmacy chains, Evans Pharmacy, in the early 20th century. Famous for their 49-foot soda pop bar, Evans’ sold over 1,000 soda pops each day.

In 1933, the building changed hands and became the first home of Dr. Scholl’s Comfort Shoe Store. Dr. Scholl’s commissioned Chicago-based architect Markham Ashberry to shape the property into an Art Deco marvel. Ashberry imported from Germany black Vitrolite, a heavy structural glass, to create the backdrop for a theme of sunbeams and flora fashioned from copper and nickel.

From the 50s through the 70s, 1106 was home to Pauline's Bridal shop. City Blue took over the building in 1981 and closed in 2014 to restore the building.

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When pieces of the black Vitrolite began to fall from the building last year, Nadav removed the entire façade. He is in the process of restoring it in conjunction with the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

"It’s a project that I’ve been working on for the past two years in terms of concept... presenting it, working with Kate [Rohrer] on the design, presenting it to vendors, closing down the City Blue location that was here, and saving this whole building."

A "sneakerhead" is born 

Like his building at 1106 Chestnut, Brian is no stranger to retail. He’s been working in it virtually his entire life. His father, Joseph Nadav is founding partner of urban retail chain City Blue, founded in Philadelphia in 1981.

As a kid, Nadav worked in the City Blue stock room. He moved up the rungs to become a sneaker salesman in middle school and high school, and was promoted to manager of their Trenton, New Jersey, location for a few years. In 2007, he became the footwear buyer. In recent years, Brian has spearheaded the charge of renovating and modernizing City Blue. Today, he runs the 23 stores under the City Blue umbrella. 

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Lapstone & Hammer is clearly a passion project for Nadav, who’s able to rattle off a sneaker’s history, construction materials and cultural impact like a baseball card collector relays player stats.

Nadav sensed the shifting landscape in streetwear toward footwear early on.“In the 80s and 90s, City Blue’s business was 80 percent apparel and 20 percent footwear. Today, it’s more like 70-30 perfect footwear to apparel,”

In fact, years ago, he began to put aside stock from City Blue’s Air Jordan releases. He’s since accumulated 2,000 pairs of highly coveted Air Jordans, many of which will be available for VIPs to purchase in a private room upstairs.

“Initially I was putting one pair of each shoe aside. I thought, why don’t I put six pairs aside? Then it snowballed and I was putting away 12 pairs of each crazy release. Let’s put 24 aside. Let’s put 36 pairs aside.”

In the sneaker industry, Lapstone & Hammer is known as a "pinnacle shop". In other words, they will receive products that 99 percent of other sneaker retailers will not. This includes limited edition runs and quick strikes. Expect to see lines around the corner this Saturday for the rerelease of the Jordan VII Hare, a sneaker that has not been available since the premiere of the 1996 film 'Space Jam'. 

One well-known pinnacle shop is Ubiq, located at 1509 Walnut Street. "They take a youthful approach. They’re from a streetwear, skate background. The concept here was to take an elevated, sophisticated approach to introduce handmade leather shoes, the stuff that we are exclusive with. Lapstone & Hammer was built to appeal to a more mature, more sophisticated crowd."

Nadav is planning a Jordan restock for the end of May when he’ll pump 300 pairs of “crazy limited edition shoes” into the ecosystem, all at box price. He hopes to garner respect in the sneaker community, as he could easily sell these shoes for $500-$600 per pair. He's allowing customers to pick out one pair for box price.

He says of potential resellers, “ Those kids are always going to come out. Every sneakerhead wants to be an entrepreneur. They get two pairs. They sell one for triple the price. It pays for their shoe. It’s their little business, which I think is great." 

Lapstone & Hammer will open to the public on Friday, May 15 at 10 a.m. 1106 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. 

A tour of Lapstone & Hammer

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The interior, designed by Kate Rohrer, is a nod to old meets new. The front of the store has a heritage feel, with Japanese denim and handmade Italian leather shoes from Dutch designers. The back of the store is modern and sleek.  

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In addition to apparel and footwear, Lapstone & Hammer is selling men's grooming products from The Blind Barber and Hudson Made. Nadav is hoping to bring The Blind Barber in for a pop-up event after the shop opens. 

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The high contrast 'Sneaker Room' is outfitted with fine white marble flooring, white walls and black leather furniture. 

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"Saucony is bringing back the Saucony originals line, bringing out the heritage runners. Doing them up in cool materials and funky colors," says Nadav. 

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A Roshe Run from Nike is on display in the front of the store. 

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The front of shop features custom shelving from Ben Johnson of Manayunk’s Workerman Gallery.

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Lapstone & Hammer offers Japanese denim brand Naked & Famous as well as leather motorcycle jackets from Schott, credited with inventing the first zippered jackets. Schott jackets are made in the U.S.A.  
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Schott's classic jacket, "The Perfecto" was worn by James Dean and Marlon Brando.

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An array of handcrafted footwear from Dutch brands Vico and Filling Pieces. Both lines are made of Italian leather. Timbaland Boot Company and Gorilla Boots are also made in the States and are on display in this section.  

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“People just don’t build like this anymore,” says Nadav of the embossed medallion popping from the ceiling, the inspiration from which Lapstone & Hammer’s logo is crafted. Local design collective, Sedso Design created the logo. 

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A 1,000 square-foot gallery can be accessed through french doors in the back of the shop. Nadav has named the gallery space 'Pauline's', after the bridal shop that operated there in the 50s-70s. He will use this space as a social element for product launches, artist collaborations and other special events. Nadav is even trying his hand at designing exclusive product such as bomber jackets, denim and oxfords for the store. 

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The iconic neon Pauline's Bridal Shoppe sign has been taken down from the other end of the building on Sansom Street to be restored. Nadav tells PhillyVoice that neon aficionado Lenny Davidson was surprised by the extraordinary craftsmanship of the sign. 

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The word "Bridal" is fashioned from one run of tube, a rare occurrence. Nadav will hang the sign in the gallery once it is repaired. 

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A view of the restored Art Deco charm infused throughout the shop.

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Lapstone & Hammer plans to use this space as an extension of Pauline's. It will also function as a VIP room for private buyers looking to purchase stock available from Nadav's vault of limited edition Jordans. The space is also DJ booth-ready.

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A window upstairs in the mezzanine looks out onto Pauline's, the gallery space in the back of the store.   


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