Now with one location each in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Rime is one of New York City’s best and most beloved sneaker and streetwear stores. Owned and operated by longtime industry veteran Susan Boyle, the two shops carry the best of the best from brands such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Vans and Stüssy, among many others. Here, Boyle discusses her stores’ background and explains why she is pioneering a retail trail for sneaker-loving women. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is the history and background of Rime?
I have been in the business a long, long time–longer than most people have been alive in the business. I’ve been doing it for about 35 years and I have worked for people like [streetwear store] Michael K. I worked for a lot of people for a lot of years and I kind of felt that I was getting up there in age and also that I was tired of doing it everybody else’s way in retail and having to follow their ways. And I kind of felt that retail lost being an individual because that is really where I came from back in the day. I came from stores that were in Jackson Heights and Corona [Queens] and Steinway Street so it was real local stores where you knew everybody. You knew the shop owners and everything like that. I wanted to bring that back because with the Internet and everything I just felt that shopping became looking and searching for an item and buying it and there wasn’t a shopping experience. There wasn’t that personal thing going on anymore. So I took a couple of people with me and we built Rime in Brooklyn on Smith Street.

Susan Boyle opened her first Rime store in Brooklyn.
Susan Boyle opened her first Rime store in Brooklyn.

What was that experience like and how has Rime evolved?
Back then it wasn’t really gentrified so it still had a real street feel to it, a real New York feel to it. It reminded me of what was going on back in the ’90s and the ’80s when you would walk into little shops that were interesting. And back then was when H&M came and Forever 21 and all the big boxes started. So that is why I went into a neighborhood as opposed to going into Manhattan. I opened up Rime very small and didn’t think I was going to end up doing sneakers because my whole background is apparel. But next thing I know, I ended up bringing in a few sneaker brands. Then I am looking and talking at Nike and once you get Nike everything else flows. So I started doing sneakers because there was nobody in that neighborhood that did sneakers. That was a great opportunity for me.

How important are special events at Rime?
The whole gist of my store these days is doing special events fusing art, music, culture and neighborhood all together. We did a Reebok event when they launched Basquiat. We did a whole thing in the store and we had people come in and do canvases and kids and older people came in. We had this big release party and the customer had a chance to actually pick out who the winner was. We gave away sneakers and it was just a great event in the store for all ages. We also had a concert with a live neo-funk band from Australia that was playing Brooklyn Bowl. Next thing I know it was all over Facebook that they were doing a private concert in the store. We do little things like that in the store as well as selling clothing.

How have you built up your business over the years?
Little did I know that the economy would plummet as soon as I opened. But being a retailer I held on and understood that I had to watch my inventory. Everybody was working together with everyone else at the time because we were all in the same boat. And it did weed out people who weren’t retailers, I think. Not having that kitty that everyone else had I managed to survive. I mean, I didn’t have ten great years of retail behind me. For me it was a little bit of a struggle but I kept my head above water and I managed to come out alive.

When did you decide to open a second location in Manhattan?
After being in business for five years and keeping our head up I decided it was time to expand. I wanted to do another store but I don’t like going in where other people’s businesses are so that’s why you will never see me in SoHo or something like that. I’d rather go into a neighborhood where I am not infringing on anyone else’s accounts. So we went to the Upper East Side. And everyone said: “Upper East Side? Really?” But I said: “There are no sneakers from 125th Street down to 14th Street.” So I opened up on a side street. On 87th Street I found this beautiful space that was once an art gallery that was then turned into a vintage store. All I had to do was fixture it so I said, “Let’s go for it.” I opened that one up in November.

Customers find the second Rime store in Manhatten.
Customers find the second Rime store in Manhatten.
How is the Manhattan store doing in comparison to the Brooklyn location?

It’s good. People are finding it. It’s like the old days; it’s a destination. If I had opened there solely without having Brooklyn it might have been a struggle but having Brooklyn has given me a following and people who know where we are. It really helps because a lot of the kids are living up in The Bronx and they don’t have to go all the way to Brooklyn anymore. And they don’t have to go all the way downtown to Flight Club because they have something in their own backyard now. I’ve reached out to some of the schools and the store is doing really nicely. Also, what people don’t understand is that there are women up there. And this whole trend that I am doing of being a female owner of a sneaker store that relates to women as well has opened up a lot of doors for me.

Right now there is not a lot of women doing what we do. Somehow the boys’ club let me in a little bit and I started bringing in women’s stuff. I did the Fashion Week last year with Nike and they dropped all the Fashion Week wedges. I had a line outside my store on the Upper East Side. The wedges did really well. They were $225 and girls were coming in and they wanted five of them, the whole collection. Which is different from guys coming in when they just want a new pair. They come in, they leave and they go. Girls shop.

What percentage of your sales is sneaker-based?
On the Upper East Side right now it is probably 90/10. The only thing I bring up there are Canada Goose jackets. I haven’t been open a year yet so I am still figuring that out but it very sneaker-oriented there because there is no one else doing it and I really have an open market for myself. And there is the fact that it is not such a girly or masculine store–I kept it very neutral so that everyone feels comfortable. I’ve had moms come in with their kids and they are buying Stella McCartney and Adidas. It kind of opened up this whole new world where women realized that they don’t have to go to Foot Locker.

Do you have a typical customer?
I have a typical sneakerhead customer. In Brooklyn I have a very good eclectic mix because the neighborhood is eclectic. I have the sneaker kids and the kids from Gowanus but then I have all the new people who are coming in because of gentrification. Five years ago it was just me and some bodegas. In the city I have a true Upper East Side customer.

Rime offers brands like Nike, Puma and Vans.
Rime offers brands like Nike, Puma and Vans.
How you work with brands aside from just stocking them?

Puma approached me. They were doing very well with their wedges but they were missing that contemporary girl who wasn’t buying it. We started talking about why. The girl who reads Vogue and the contemporary girls isn’t wanting to put on the Puma right away. The Alexander McQueen was doing well in my store and I had a lot of feedback about them because I am on the floor. So I was talking to them and the next thing I know they were asking me if I wanted to curate a sneaker. So we came up with three designs. Eventually we decided to do just one and just launch a really strong shoe. It is going to launch on December 6. It did really well at MAGIC. Everyone loved it. Even the men’s stores picked it up. It’s about a gold theme so the whole store is going to turn gold and glam that night. My pieces are going to have my branding on it and they are going to do a special box for me.

Will you be shopping the New York women’s market this week?
I’m going to Coterie tomorrow. I’m also trying to do store number three which may be solely women’s. I’m trying to work on that right now and find a location.

What would you say are some “golden rules” of retailing?
You have to stay current and you have to be out there in the market. You have to look around and see what the kids are wearing and figure out how to bring that into your store and make it your own. And not just follow every trend but just the trends that work for you. But you have to be where the next thing is. You have to know that next curve. You have to stay very current. You have to go to every show. You have to be on the Internet. I think a lot of retailers sit back in their store because the day to day gets to you in retail. You have to talk and see what people are doing. And the other thing is that at the end of the day you have to trust your gut and know what is right for your store. You have to know your consumer and whom you’re bringing that in for. Even if it’s the hottest thing, if that’s not your customer it doesn’t matter.

Store's address:
Rime Brooklyn 157 Smith Street Brooklyn,
NY 11201 USA +1 718 797 0675
Rime Upper East Side 167 East 87th Street New York,
NY 10128 USA +1 212 837 2375