Since opening in 2006, Flight Club Los Angeles has always been more than just a consignment and retail outlet for sneakerheads and resellers.
It was a clubhouse and cultural hub, a gallery where customers could browse some of the most iconic shoes of all time. Friends would gather up there to just hang out, undisturbed by the usual buy-and-scram sellers. Flight Club became one of the biggest draws in the North Fairfax Avenue streetwear lineup.
But then came March 2020 and the global lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic which closed all but essential retail stores. In May, before the Flight Club could reopen, thieves took advantage of the city’s unrest and targeted upmarket businesses.
Flight Club was gutted along with the psyches of some of its most devoted fans.
“Since then I’ve maybe been on the block once and didn’t even want to walk past it,” said Kevin Gaspard, a longtime Flight Club customer and streetwear designer who was there regularly. “It was just too weird not being able to go in there. I stopped hanging out with Fairfax because it almost felt pointless.”
More than two years later, the Los Angeles showcase of sneaker and streetwear marketplace GOAT Group quietly opens its doors on Monday. Chief Executive Eddy Lu hopes the major overhaul will not only restore the old Flight Club’s popularity, but extend it beyond.
Lu wants the new Flight Club to spark rejuvenation outside its walls for an area that hasn’t changed much since 2020.
Although some businesses appear to be doing well, many store fronts still have their graffiti-covered metal security blinds firmly closed. Armed robberies are an ongoing problem in the Fairfax and Melrose shopping districts.
“I can’t wait to go,” Gaspard said. “It will feel like the old playground is going back to what it used to be. I mean a lot of things are still not what they have been since COVID but it will be good to see Flight Club again because they are definitely an integral part of this community.”
Lu recalls seeing some of the news reports of thieves running away with armloads of Flight Club merchandise feeling “disappointed.” It was downtime for the company.”
When the GOAT Group bought Flight Club in 2018, it sent shock waves through sneakerhead cosmos.
After all, Flight Club revolutionized sneaker retail with its original New York store in 2005. It pioneered collectors looking to sell rare shoes on consignment and buyers willing to queue for hours to snag that next hot shoe during an exclusive drop.
Would buying it through GOAT (which stands for Greatest of All Time) be like giving the moneychangers access to the temple?
Instead, the matchup was more like landing a star player at the close of trade.
The combo brought GOAT’s financial strength — the latest funding round doubled the company’s value to $3.7 billion — and a rigorous product authentication process for Flight Club. And it brought GOAT the credibility and passionate fan base of Flight Club, as well as the online juggernaut’s first physical retail stores.
The Flight Club Los Angeles store before 2020 was minimalist and modern. The walls were clad in light-colored plywood and pegboard, supporting floor-to-ceiling shoes like an art installation.
The new version also embraces a modern product-is-king aesthetic, but has evolved into a fully-fledged industrial look. Plywood has been replaced by concrete, steel and rebar. A heavy duty scissor lift stand by to grab unreachable kicks.
“The Flight Club has meant so much to the community outside of its walls,” Lu said. “So we took elements of Los Angeles to say, ‘Let’s embrace where we are, the rugged freeways, the traffic, the concrete, etc., and put that in the store and just this beautiful marriage of LA with sneakers and have fairfax. ‘ just to make a statement that we’re back and better than ever.”
All that remains of the old store is the so-called centerpiece, a long rectangular seating area where friends gathered and customers tried on shoes.
The GOAT representatives kept a low profile when it came to the details of an innovation: the noticeably stricter security measures with better entrance protection and fewer access options for charging.
GOAT officials also declined to disclose how much was lost in 2020 and how much was covered by insurance. As a goodwill gesture, Flight Club members whose shoes were in store for resale were reimbursed, the company said.
From a financial perspective, GOAT Group didn’t need to reopen the Los Angeles store, Lu said.
Digital transactions surged during the pandemic, with more than $2 billion worth of goods sold on Goat.com and FlightClub.com last year. The platforms have more than 40 million members and more than 700,000 sellers in 170 countries.
“The revenue and membership growth has been phenomenal,” said Lu. “And it’s just a testament to the brand that Flight Club showcases where, hey, when I can’t shop in stores, I can access FlightClub.com online.”
But the plan was always to reopen the store.
“Sneakers are such a tactile experience,” said Lu. “It’s a physical product and something you can’t replicate online. And that’s why I think it’s so important and valuable to have this personal experience to really experience all the feelings and smells of the store.”
Despite the cosmetic changes, Lu said the store will remain a shop that welcomes people to hang out and learn about the sneaker world.
“In traditional retail stores, everything revolves around the sales transaction,” Lu said. “We’ve never experienced Flight Club like this before.
“In a way, it’s like going to a museum. It’s an experience where you have that tactile feeling of shoes that you’ve seen online many times, but now you can live and breathe it, you can smell it. You can try it on. You can really experience and see the subtle details of these sneakers. These are products that inspire so many people in real life. That’s what makes people stay in the store.”
An entire wall of the store is dedicated to the main collection, with Air Jordans and Air Jordan collabs, a section dedicated to Nike Dunks, and a section dedicated to Yeezys.
Another section is dedicated to the rarest and most exclusive so-called Grail shoes, including the $50,000 Air Yeezy 2 Sp Red October, the $30,000 Nike MAG Back to the Future sneaker, and a $30,000 Eminem X Carhartt x Air Jordan 4 Black Chrome .
At the back of the store is a special display area that features pairs from the entire 1985 Jordan 1 line that were loaned by avid for the reopening Sneaker collector Ryan Scottwho owns more than 500 pairs of shoes.
The store will also offer Nike AF 1 shoes, made in separate collaborations with late artist Virgil Abloh and designer Louis Vuitton.
Special art was commissioned for the store, including a mural by noted graffiti artist Stash, who said he was thrilled to be a part of Flight Club’s return.
“Flight Club was and is one of the most amazing retail concepts in my opinion,” he said. “I wish I had had Flight Club when I was younger.”
The reopening was an odd mix of spy-grade secrecy that, amazingly, hasn’t leaked on social media, and what video gamers might call an Easter egg hunt. There were indications something was about to happen around the Flight Club’s Los Angeles location.
For example, at the northwest corner of North Fairfax Avenue and Rosewood Avenue was a series of large posters showing an artist’s progress in painting a mural. The artist was Stash, who painted the mural that will hang on a wall in the store.
On the roof of the same building, it appeared that someone had grossly insulted the store’s memory by graffitiing the entire bottom half of a giant Flight Club billboard.
It wasn’t vandalism. It was done on purpose, again by Stash. The same symbol is sold on one sleeve of Flight Club T-shirts to commemorate the reopening.
One person who can’t wait for it to happen is Greg Plotkin, 52, a film editor whose last job was working on the upcoming film Secret Headquarters. Plotkin is a longtime sneakerhead who has shared his passion for shoes with his sons Jake, 16, and Lucas, 14.
“There were always great shoes that my sons had never seen except in photos, like a very rare pair of Yeezys once,” Plotkin said. “And he got to hold them, which is what sets Flight Club apart from other businesses. Lucas just passed out and it was his favorite store from then on.”