Words and Photos by Bryan Espinal
New York City’s skateboard history is extensive and few companies can say that they’ve been here since the inception of East Coast street skating. Few companies are like 1986’s Shut, and we sat down with VP Michael Cohen to discuss the many aspects of skateboarding from then, skateboarding now and the happenings of the company’s flagship shop down on Orchard Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Nothing wrong with exploring the future through the lens of the past.
MA : How did the name Shut come about and how is it connected to the city?
MC: The name Shut started when Rodney Smith started Shut Skateboards in 1986. Prior to them beginning, the name was more of a slang part of the language that was spoken, almost like, “Shut up and skate.”
MA: In what ways is New York City skateboarding different from what it was in 1986 when Shut began and what ways is it still the same?
MC: When Shut began it was completely different. There were no where near as many skaters. It was small groups in different cities that were doing their thing. Shut back then did [things] a little more grass roots. They kind of had to recreate what was going on in California, what they saw in the magazines. Today, with the Internet everything skateboarding is pretty much super connected with just social media. Everything now is just instant gratification. [Back then] a lot of it was being original and created in the ’80s, which was unique.
MA: How does being in the Lower East Side affect the shop and what kind of historical influence does the neighborhood offer?
MC: We opened this shop about six years ago. The main reason for coming down here was to be amongst like-minded people. You know what they always say when it comes to retail, which is new for us because we’ve been in wholesale forever, but going into retail for the 1st time 6 years ago, it’s all about location, location, location and this is kind of, you know, us foreshadowing and seeing that this was the next cool, dope spot. We have Alife in the neighborhood, aNYthing in the neighborhood, Frank’s Chop Shop in the neighborhood, Reed Space, all the homies. Self Edge is awesome, they’re homies with Alyasha Moore, one of the original Shut guys. And the other thing too is that it’s almost like a full 360 because Shut’s first offices were on Mott street in the ’80s. Mott’s only six, seven, eight blocks away from here which is pretty rad. Another tidbit of information about Mott street is that Luis Tolentino was born in 1986 and when he first moved from The Dominican Republic he lived on Mott Street and it’s almost kind of creepy that he’s now skating for us!
MA: So many skate shops and companies come and go, what is it that has kept Shut alive after so many years?
MC: We’ve only been here six years. The brand started in ’86 then stopped in ’91 and then resurged in ’06, but we did Zoo York in between. I had worked for them in 2003 -2004 during the Zoo days. I’ve been knowing them from when I was a kid and seeing what Adam, Eli and Rodney have done since, the momentum has not stopped. And I think because of how passionate they are about it and how engulfed they are in it, that they don’t lose sight of it, and I think that’s what keeps them going.
MA: How did Luis Tolentino become part of the Shut team and how has that affected the awareness of the company amongst young skaters. How do you feel about all the things he’s been doing in DR with the Harold Hunter Foundation?
MC: Right off [the bat] Luis is one of my favorite kids. He has super amazing energy and he came to us through, I think it was that he skated for another company at the time and he had left that company and then it was Alex Corporan, who’s a long time Shut friend and family member. And that’s how we linked with Luis, an introduction from Alex. Luis has been on the squad since ’06-’07, went and skated for another company out in California briefly, and then came back to us about a year ago. He also came back with us working for the Harold Hunter Foundation. He’s an amazing ambassador, like I said, a genuine kid. I’ve traveled with him all over the place and he lights up the room, it’s really unique that he kind of shies away from that. He humbles skaters. I mean skaters have such a stigma of being cool guys, too cool for school, but you know sometimes that works for a lot of them. And because of their style of skating, it portrays it, but Luis’s skating is so big that everything is just out there and at the same time the kid’s got the biggest smile on his face. I rarely see him get angst at anything and when he does he has a right reason to.
MA: In 2013 whats the hardest part about running a shop and a company?
MC: That’s a hard question, I don’t know if it’s hard. It’s a lot of fun!
MA: So what’s the coolest and most rewarding part?
MC: The rewarding part is being able to wake up every morning and just jump out of bed and go to work because you enjoy what you do. You’re surrounded by skateboarding, you’re talking about skateboarding all day and being engulfed in it is a dream come true.