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.
MA: Why is the shop called “Shut Mechanics?”
MC: The shop is Shut Skateboard Shop. We have a couple different names for it, Shut Mechanics Professional, Local 158. We like the whole theme of it. We wanted to do a flagship store and we wanted to portray a mechanic theme to it and, you know, professional environment. Sometimes people come in here they are intimidated that they are new to skating and I always try to explain to them the same exact way, that it’s just like tennis or some other sport, you need equipment. The equipment that the pros are using is the same equipment that the beginner is using, so don’t let the professional aspect scare you away, but it is the mechanic theme to it.
MA: If you can describe the Shut shop and legacy in 3 words what would it be?
MC: Skateboarding, immortal, architect.
MA: What’s your most popular item in the shop?
MC: Our hard goods are definitely more popular. I would have to say our decks. One, they are made in the U.S. The people we have been working with making the boards in the U.S. we’ve had a relationship with for over 20 years. We speak to them on a weekly basis, we’re at the wood mill all the time. You know it’s something that we really put a lot of time and effort into it and it comes across the right way because that’s what we’re selling the most. It does well. Also, we put a lot of time and effort into the graphics that are going on the board. The people we work with to do graphics for us, some of them are in house, you know through guys that are managers in the shop, part-time kids that work in the shop, friends that we’ve skated with since we were kids that have done some amazing art work for us or graffiti friends. There’s always a rhyme and reason to everything we’re doing, there’s always some kind of synergy to every project and everything we put our efforts into, even me talking with you now.
MA: Any secrets or facts about the shop only locals might know?
MC: Well we do a local discount. We take care of all of our locals in the area, the local kids we don’t charge for any of the services we do as far as putting boards together. If anything we’ll take the extra time to put boards together with the kids and show them how things are done. I’m a much bigger fan of when I sell somebody a skateboard, to talk to them as much as possible. At the same time people will come in here and we’ll recommend other places to go for things we might not have and then we also do a give-back program where you shred your Shut deck and once its done we do
$45 with grip when you bring it back to us. It can come back in ten million pieces we’ll still hook it up for you.
MA: Can you tell me some of the celebs and famous skaters that have come into the shop?
MC: Um yeah, that’s probably my favorite. One we’ve had in here is… Eli Gesner. One of the owners and founders came up with the term “skaleb” and um for skalebs, I’ve hung out with Natas in here, which was amazing. Tobin Yelland, Rick Ross, Karl Lagerfeld. Olson comes through here, Mickey Reyes. My all-time favorite person to ever come into this store, to hang out with us, to chat with us, to spend the time and tries to always make it his mission to come thru is ALL HAIL CARDIEL! Also Julien Stranger, Stash, Futura, the list goes on and on an on, it’s kind of crazy too. I almost get goosebumps, I feel like a 14-year-old skater sometimes when I’m in the store and got Chad Muska, who’s a good friend of ours, coming by to say hello. We had Ryan Sheckler do a trick on the front of our bench for a GoPro commercial out in front of the store, so yeah, the list goes on and on and on. As far as all my childhood, my current and some of the upcoming rippers who come in and out of the store on the daily basis, we’re truly truly blessed. It’s humbling at the same time that these people are so invested in skateboarding that they do take their time to come and hangout with us and chat with us and say hello to us.
MA: What’s the best thing about skating in New York City? Worst thing?
MC: The best thing is being able to see so many sights in a short period of time. I mean like, you get to cover much more ground and its more efficient then anything else. It’s easier to maneuver than a car, with a bicycle you get from point A to point B super, super fast riding with the homies. There’s girls checkin you out, people checking you out, you know you bust an ollie, throw a grind, a slap, whatever. The city is the skatepark, that’s the best part!
The worst part is, I would just have to say the occasional snowfall. Fortunately we are into snowboarding so during that time we’ll go and shred mountains, but that’s like the only hiccup I have and, of course, I hate the cars, the elements of the East Coast, I think that’s what makes us stronger to survive. We’re grittier than any other city and that’s why I think new york is the best to skate.
MA: Do you have a favorite Shut graphic of all time?
MC: Well there’s gonna be two answers for that because there is original Shut and back then it was definitely the shark graphic. That was always my favorite, [I] just loved the style of the cartoon to it, at the same time it’s such an iconic logo, the graphic, the teeth. It’s a cool character. I also like the Shut bully from back then, and now my favorite graphic, it’s funny, it doesn’t say Shut. Eli Gesner took an old, old board, I think it was a Zoo York board but it was just destroyed. It was left outside and it looked like absolute hell, but he took a photo of it and turned it into a graphic and the name of it was “destroy all skateboards” and it almost looks like an old ship that still floats. It’s so cool that we put it out and it did really well and it never even said Shut on, it didn’t even have a logo. It was just such an obscure graphic and cool piece of artwork.
MA: What would you say to young skaters reading this as well as older skaters reading this?
MC: For all the young kids it’s really, really simple, just um you know, do the research and educate yourself if you are passionate about skateboarding. Know your roots but at the same time always look forward look for the next innovations. Don’t worry about other peoples style, create your own and take it to the next level. That’s all I gotta tell the young kids constantly. You know it’s creativity, it’s thinking outside the box. The other thing I gotta tell the young kids is get out of the skatepark as much as you possibly can and get on the streets and do things no else is doing. And to the old dudes reading this keep doing what you are doing and always embrace the young.
Shut Skateboards NYC
158 Orchard Street
New York NY 10002
Follow Bryan Espinal and the exploits of his Mira CoNYo skate crew via their Instagram page.