On Monday, Deven Jackson plucked a pair of butter yellow shoes from a shelf and held them in his hands like a museum curator, holding a rare, valuable piece of artwork: Kanye West Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 sneakers. Worth as much as $500 online.
"People go crazy for these," he said.
Jackson was standing in League, the Dimond Center store specializing in cult-brand streetwear and shoes he'd opened three days earlier.
It's been a big summer: Jackson has both graduated from high school and signed a lease at Alaska's biggest mall. At age 17, Jackson might be the youngest-ever business owner at the Dimond Center.
Brenda Steil, the marketing director for the mall, was a bit taken aback to learn that her newest tenant was not yet legally an adult.
"He's 17?" she said.
She rushed off to double-check that Jackson had a business license. He did.
"If he's old enough for a business license, he's old enough for us," Steil said.
The clientele of League are sneakerheads, who obsessively track the latest collaborations and releases from their favorite brands.
The limited-run shoes and accessories sell out instantaneously, so the resale market is hot. Lots of it happens online, but consignment shops specializing in rare shoes have popped up all over, Jackson says — just not in Alaska until now.
"It's like a game of chess — what move are you willing to make?" he said. "Every sneaker you buy is an investment."
Some people buy the rare shoes as pieces of art, and wouldn't even think of putting a pair of $2,700 Pharrell Williams-designed Adidas Human Race series sneakers on their feet.
Others, like Jackson, prefer to show the shoes off.
"If I'm gonna pay $500 for shoes, I'm definitely gonna wear them," he said.
Jackson is the son of a preacher and a teacher. His father is a pastor at the Eagle River Missionary Baptist Church and his mother teaches at Baxter Elementary School. He grew up on the east side of the city but played basketball for West High for four years.
In the fall, he'll attend Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina on a basketball scholarship. His business partner John Daet, who opened a similar, short-lived streetwear shop in The Mall at Sears, will run the store while he's at school, Jackson said. Daet is a true sneaker obsessive, Jackson said: He'll be awake at 4 a.m. waiting for a shoe to be released online.
Jackson's entrepreneurial side emerged early. He says he and a neighbor tried to charge people a dollar to walk down their street. By junior high, he was buying Nike Elite socks for $14, printing them with a heat press and spray paint and reselling them for $25.
"That was the hot stuff at Begich Middle School," he said. "I felt so cool because the high schoolers on the basketball team would be like 'Yo, Dev, let me get some socks to play in.' "
In high school, he made shirts under the brand Rage City Company, selling minimalist tees with slogans like "ciudad de luces y flores" — a nod to Anchorage's nickname "the city of lights and flowers" — "forget me not" and "respect women."
Jackson says he doesn't know what he wants to do in the future, but knows enough streetwear fanatics to think that a brick-and-mortar retail shop specializing in rare and collectible consignment sneakers and vintage streetwear could work in Alaska.
Jackson said he raised the capital to open the store by throwing concerts with his friends. When he told his parents he wanted to sign a short-term lease with the Dimond Mall for a retail space, they were skeptical.
Steil, the mall's marketing manager, wouldn't say how much it cost to lease the space, only that "it isn't cheap."
"It's a big commitment," said Jackson. "It would be a lot of money to throw away. But my dad said, if it works out, I got your back. If it doesn't work out, I got your back."
Shelbe Butner, a soldier in the U.S. Army from Missouri, walked into the store with a friend. They were searching for the yellow Yeezys, but alas, the ones in the store weren't close to her size. You can get the shoes online, but a retail store might have something impossible to find everywhere else, she said.
"We've been searching for this store," she said.
The fun of it is the chase, Jackson said. He thumbed through a rack of hoodies and plucked a multicolored sweatshirt by the brand A Bathing Ape. He expected it would sell for upwards of $800. A pair of beige, rounded Yeezys that he acknowledged looked like "dad shoes" were also in hot demand.
Under the glass of a display case sat a pair of Nike shoes from a collaboration with the brand Off-White, currently an object of obsession for hardcore sneakerheads.
"These," he said. "You will never catch these on the Nike website."