Sole Space, a trendy boutique sneaker store in the heart of Uptown, was never a place that just wanted to sell shoes. Four years ago, owner Jeff Perlstein, made a life-changing New Year’s resolution. He decided that he wanted to start a business that was not only a store, but also a place of support for his true passion, people. Over the years, Sole Space has provided a safe and supportive space for a displaced community of artists, creatives, designers, musicians, organizers, and activists, standing like an iron gate against the gentrifiers and culture vultures, infiltrating the city of Oakland.
Sole Space has had a front-row seat on the effects of gentrification. As more mom and pop shops give way to larger chains and conglomerates, Jeff, has struggled in maintaining a balance of being both a business and a place that can give creatives the opportunity to sell their pieces and express themselves. He understands the complicated dichotomy of the sneaker business, which banks on exclusivity, and that the average consumer may not always be able to afford that luxury. He also acknowledges he’s not selling hemp, organic, fair trade shoes, however, he is consciously trying to find ways of using his business to benefit the community. He explains, “I want to engage folks who are thinking critically about today’s issues or maybe aren’t yet. I’m trying to create a space where [they can come to check out] shoes [and also see things throughout the store that will] hopefully make them think about how they [personally] relate to issues like affordable housing, or racism, or around how to build a more just economy, or simply how to work with your neighbor constructively across all sorts of barriers and lines.”
However, at the end of the day, Sole Space is a business, and as companies like Uber are moving in, hiking up the rent to an astronomical degree, Jeff, is doing his best to stay afloat. He recently procured two exclusive contracts with Reebok Classics and Under Armor and hopes this will draw in consumers. He also hosted a few pop-up shops for local designers like It’s Never Bad, Run the World Clothing, 2HP or Calculated Clothing. Unfortunately, business has remained slow and it’s been real “touch and go” for him this year. Yet, even through financial hardships, he keeps his door open to the community.
Jeff, is a forward thinker, progressive in his beliefs and loyal to the cause. He was one of the only businesses on his block that didn’t board up their windows during the Trayvon Martin Protests. He instead closed his business down for four days and opened his store as a space for the community to rally, organize and most importantly, grieve. During the Anti-Trump protests, he kept his door open and his lights on, providing water bottles to protesters and a place for them to rest. He has consistently held exhibitions by local artists, forums where prominent members of the community speak on social and political issues and was one of the seven host venues for the Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Jeff’s philosophy is simple, “Part of the founding notion of Sole Space was that it was going to be really accessible to community-based groups who maybe didn’t have a big budget. You know, [those] who don’t have a corporate advertising or event budget…’ he continues, ‘in my experience, not being able to afford an event space and all that can really shut things down. If we can make our rent by selling shoes during the day, then we can provide a space for emerging artists, who maybe don’t even have an EP out, but are super talented and saying really important stuff, to come and create and build with their peers and push the movement forward.” In the end, the heart of Sole Space is the community it supports and its soul is Jeff Perlstein.