Walking into Laced, the luxury sneaker boutique located on Mass Ave, is like walking into a 17-year-old boy’s dream bedroom. Decked out in the latest limited edition sneakers and adorned with hard-to-find streetwear brands, Laced is the shop that every sneaker head and brand junkie in Boston knows about. Owned and operated by Joamil Rodriguez, who used to run a well known skate shop in the Financial District called Board Room Boston, Laced is found at the intersection of sport, style and street. But Rodriguez never planned to take on the competitive industry surrounding exclusive streetwear brands. Instead, Rodriguez took his passion for snowboarding and transformed it into a small shop in downtown Boston covered in skateboard decks and the freshest snowboards. Board Room Boston became a haven for local skaters and snowboarders to kick back and connect with one another over their shared interests. Board Room felt as comfortable as your best friend’s bedroom and the employees were as friendly and welcoming as your best friends. When Rodriguez signed onto Laced and consolidated Board Room into a single location, he decided that staying true to his roots was more important than continuing in the previous owner’s vision. The result is an exclusive shop with an inclusive feel. You can get your $1,200 Yeezy Boosts here, but you can also chill out with your friends and listen to the store’s banging hip-hop playlist while chatting with the personable employees. Besides, it’s pretty cool to say you hung out in the same place that artists like Kendrick Lamar, French Montana and Waka Flocka Flame have done meet-and-greets.
We sat down with Rodriguez and asked him everything from his favorite sneaker to the chillest rapper he’s hung out with. Get ready to lace up and hear the driven story behind Laced.
“…I want the brand to be more inclusive,
I want everyone to feel like they can be
a part of Laced. You don’t have to be in
this cool kids club to be a part of it.”
1. Tell me more about your background like where you’re from and when you came to Boston.
I’m Puerto Rican and Dominican, I was born in Boston just down the road at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I’ve lived my whole life in various neighborhoods in Boston and some suburbs outside of Boston. So, I’m pretty familiar with the city. Small city, it’s easy to conquer, right?
I’m glad you’ve been to Board Room, it makes it easier to tell the story. I remember I was snowboarding…I took a long break from snowboarding, and I love snowboarding. I went back after like a 4 or 5 year break when I didn’t really snowboard at all. And that year I hit it really hard, I snowboarded maybe over 20, 30 times that season which is a lot in general, nevermind for someone who took a long break. During one of those trips, my best friend called my phone and I answered the cell phone and I was like Board Room Boston, snowboard shop. And it was just a joke, and he was like, “Man that’s a cool name for a shop.” I was like, “Whoa, why don’t we open one?” And it all sparked right there. Within the next few weeks I started looking for…you know, the season had ended, snowboard season had ended and I started looking for some space and I was like you know what, what am I gonna do in the summer? It’s a very seasonal sport and I said skateboards would be a good alternative, it’s pretty similar, there’s a lot of skateboarding being done in the city and it could keep the business alive until the winter time.
My whole goal was to open a snowboard shop then eventually maybe open a snowboard shop closer to a mountain and kind of be the opposite of a beach bum, kind of be like this “snowbum” and live near the mountain, I would work there and snowboard a lot. So we opened the Board Room. Since it was in the Financial District, with the name, it sounds like it could be this fancy something. But in real life it was just 300 square feet of boards, of skateboards and snowboards. That’s why we called it the Board Room. I thought it was pretty clever. Once we started building it, we — I say we but I really mean me, obviously the contract has people I hired. I hadn’t opened yet, I was working on it, we were getting pretty close to opening and my friend was like, “Listen, I partnered up with the original owner from Laced, we gave it a shot for the last year and a half, and it’s not working out. He wants out, we don’t wanna do it anymore. We’re either gonna close the business or sell it.” I was like, “Yeah that sounds good but I just used all my money to build the Board Room.” I had no more accessible cash even if I wanted to buy it, so I turned it down. Then 2-3 weeks later he’s like, “Yo, are you sure you don’t wanna check it out at least?” I walked by Laced when it was on Columbus Ave, and I loved it. I’d been there before, but only the shop and really wasn’t impressed with the shopping or what they had. But when I went in there to see it as a space I could potentially own, I saw all this room for improvement. I thought, this is great I really gotta figure out how to make this work. I reached out to my cousin who decided to partner with me and financially back me as long as I was a manager. And I did. And I worked on that for awhile and eventually I bought him out. It’s been six years now since we bought it, 10 years since the (original Laced) has been open, and I bought him (my cousin) out a little over a year and a half ago.
2. That’s awesome because Board Room targeted a really specific audience. The snowboard and skateboard communities are really tight in Boston, so word must have traveled fast.
There was one time when we couldn’t keep both going so we closed Board Room and tried to consolidate it. Where like, in Cambridge, Concepts used to be inside The Tannery and it was really well known, it was a great place to get sneakers and clothes and stuff. But it was inside the back of another store so we tried to get that affect for the Board Room where Board Room was inside of Laced and Laced was still Laced but Board Room was it’s own section within. We tried that for a little while and eventually we just transitioned over. It was a smaller space so it was tough to dedicate space to just skate. But as you see we didn’t drop the skate stuff, we still have it in stock. We can still put a skateboard together. It’s not our primary business but we still kept it to our roots. And one of our managers is an awesome skateboarder, probably one of the best in the city. We still get a lot of youths into skate.
3. How has the vision for Laced changed since you took over from the previous owner?
I wanted to do some heavy re-branding. We ditched all the old logos, went with some new logos, really pushed and branded that. I wanted it to be more of an inclusive store rather than an exclusive store. There’s a lot of competition in the exclusive world of sneakers already where if you’re not really cool, you can’t get a pair. Or you can’t get a pair ‘cause they’re only really super high-end or the clothes are really expensive. Not so much designer, but there are really expensive streetwear brands that people have never heard of but they’re really expensive so not a lot of people are gonna have them. That was the direction Laced was going in when I got it. They had, for example, PRPS Jeans ($150-$1,200), which are $250 jeans, and t-shirts that were very expensive. So I brought it down, I brought price points down. I said, “We’re within a quarter mile of four or five Boston housing projects, why are we trying to sell really expensive stuff?” It doesn’t make sense. Slowly we added a few things that were more expensive so I think we have a good balance of everything now. Like I said, I want the brand to be more inclusive, I want everyone to feel like they can be part of Laced. You don’t have to be in this cool kids club to be part of it.
“To see an idea and watch it come to
life and actually have it be profitable,
that gives me a lot of joy.”
4. Speaking of fashion, is there any trend right now that you really hate and want nothing to do with?
I’ve never ever ever worn Converse and I don’t like them. I never liked them back then and I still don’t like them. I respect them as a wonderful brand that’s lasted a long time and it’s all-American, I love that. I don’t like the way they look. People are really okay with just wearing Converse. I remember earlier if you didn’t have really cool sneakers on you’d get made fun of but that’s not really the case nowadays. Now it doesn’t have to be name brand. In some cases, it doesn’t even have to be new to be respected and for people to wear them or be a part of it. I guess I hate the Converse look but I can respect not having to wear designer or name brands anymore. People don’t care about that anymore, they’ll wear a t-shirt made by a local designer just as quickly as they’d wear one by a national designer. And they’re super uncomfortable, I don’t like the trend at all.
And I’m not big into the running shoe thing. I’m wearing a pair of the (Nike) Roshe ones right now, but I’m not big into the Asics and New Balance. I mean, we sell some of it here, but it hasn’t quite convinced me to cross over and wear a pair.
5. Do you skate or were you ever a skateboarder?
I tried a little bit. I opened a skate shop so I thought it’d be right if I spent some time with the kids out there skating. So I definitely tried, wasn’t my strength. After a few falls I kind of quit. I still snowboard though.
6. What would you say is your biggest passion?
My biggest passion is definitely being able to make money. Not in the sense of it being the most important thing but I enjoy being able to create something out of nothing. To see an idea and watch it come to life and actually have it be profitable, that gives me a lot of joy. I think that’s what gives me motivation to keep doing stuff.
7. I can definitely see how your passion influenced your work with Laced, since it sounds like the previous owners presented it to you as a failing project.
Yeah, it was literally gonna close or be sold. It was definitely a failing project. At one point I asked the previous staff, “How much are you guys selling right now a week? Just roundabout?” And they said, “Uh, yeah about $100 a week.” I was like, really? So I saw there was room for improvement. I mean, I can sell more than $100 a week. So at the same time, while they were selling it to me as a failing project, I was looking at it like, “This would be a goldmine if it was used properly or promoted properly.” A lot of it was just being consistent. They had days when they just wouldn’t open and they weren’t getting any new product. So, I immediately knew if we just started opening everyday and got new stuff in, people would start coming in. If people knew about it they would definitely walk into Laced. I remember the first few days, we weren’t quite ready to open and we were inside moving stuff around and people just kept knocking on the door, knocking on the door asking if we’re open. It was definitely a great opportunity even though it was kind of presented as that failing store.
“I feel like if I get down on something
it only makes me want to work harder.”
8. I saw you might be hosting a meet-and-greet with Vic Mensa on Wednesday. You guys have had a ton of people from the hip-hop community here. How did that come about?
Some of the stuff happens kind of randomly. It’s the only way I can really describe it because it’s not like anyone knew Kendrick. The first time Kendrick (Lamar) came here, no one knew who he was. Five or six people showed up. So we kind of bank on those artists early, so even if tons of people came or not, he was here. Same thing with Kid Ink and a few other artists. They are way bigger now than they were when they came here. That’s kind of our claim to fame, we try to get in there early. Then after getting them early we build that relationship and possibly try and get them to come another time when they’re a little bit bigger. So, Kendrick did come back a second time and the line was all the way up to Mass Ave station. Same thing with Kid Ink, he came three or four times after that. Getting the artists, it’s not any one thing I could just do to make it happen. Relationships are built throughout time, a friend who might be able to make the connection, sometime we’ve literally just tweeted artists and had our followers tweet the artists. We’re like, if you guys really want them to come, tweet the artist and ask them to come. Then I’ve gotten direct messages from artists saying yeah, reach out to my manager and let’s make it happen. There’s no wrong way to do it. I like to catch em on their way up or their way down, that’s how I like to describe it.
9. Any memorable stories about any of the rappers that have been here ?
Waka Flocka was one of my favorite ones. He’s so energetic and super animated. I remember we were watching this crazy video, it was the one where the bus driver uppercutted the girl and was like, “You gon’ learn today!” I remember it so vividly because he had never seen it and we mentioned it to him, and he’s like, “Nah, I never seen it, lemme see that! Let me see that video!” And we put it on and he watched it for the first time and he was dying laughing and he’s shaking his arms he’s like, “Yo, run that back I gotta watch that again!” That was just one of the funnier moments. And he’s walking around with a little Louis (Vuitton) dust bag, not even an actual Louis bag but you know when you buy something and it comes in a little dust bag? He had one of those with like $50,000 in cash and he’s like twirling it around and he’s joking around. It was funny, to say the least. Yeah, that was one of my favorites. He’ll talk to everybody, he’s been back here since then a bunch of times. He was here, he spent a bunch of money and bought like five or six pairs of sneakers. We left one of them on display and forgot to put it in the box and he texted me when he got home like, “Bro, what happened?!” I’m like, “Oh! My bad!” So I mailed it to him. We definitely kept up our relationship, he’s one of the cooler guys that I definitely connected with.
10. Talk about someone who has had the most influence in your life.
Wow. It’d be sad if I gave no one credit, right? But I can’t think of anyone specifically. The older cousin that invested in me and believed in my goals as far as the store and stuff, I definitely owe him a lot. But I feel like I’m a big self-motivator. I feel like if I get down on something it only makes me want to work harder. I’ll get random ideas from life stuff and things I’m doing in my normal lifestyle so it’s kind of easy for me to get motivated on my own. I don’t wanna be cliche and be like oh my parents, but my mom’s a really hard worker. I think some of that’s in her definitely came to me. And I tell the people all the time, I used to hate waking up and having to go to work when I worked with someone else. I just hated it, it was the worst. Doesn’t matter what my hours were, I could work at four in the afternoon, I still hated the fact it was freakin’ nice out and I have to go to work. I haven’t felt like that ever since I started working for myself. Everyday I look forward to doing something else, getting some stuff done. So I think owning your own business or doing something for yourself will definitely push you. It’s a huge influence for yourself.
11. What is your favorite sneaker you have out right now?
I want a pair of those Yeezys pretty bad. We’ve got two pairs of the high tops and a pair of the low tops. But they sell all the time. It’s tough to keep them in the store when they’re not being raffled off, people are actually buying them too.