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Bidding a fond farewell to Eastbay, the sneakerhead's catalogue

Nike was just one of the brands featured in the Eastbay catalog, which is now ending. In its heyday, Eastbay was the place to check out the latest sneakers and sports apparel.
Chris O'Meara
/
AP
Nike was just one of the brands featured in the Eastbay catalog, which is now ending. In its heyday, Eastbay was the place to check out the latest sneakers and sports apparel.

Growing up in the 1990s, I was obsessed with the Eastbay catalog. I'd spend hours and hours poring over the latest issue, like a detective combing through mounds of evidence.

I'd closely examine the newest sneakers worn by my favorite athletes – Ken Griffey Jr, Shaquille O'Neal, Deion Sanders – circling my favorite ones.

To me, it was like the Sears catalog, only a lot hipper.

So I was especially bummed out when Eastbay's parent company, Foot Locker, announced that it would be winding down the brand as part of a company consolidation and ending the catalog.

The last issue has already been sent out, but in its heyday, Eastbay was the place to check out the latest sneakers and sports apparel. The catalog was known for its robust selection of athletic wear and sports jerseys, carrying items you normally couldn't find in stores. If you played sports in the 90s, there was a good chance you came across an Eastbay catalog while looking for gear for the upcoming season.

According to ESPN's Nick DePaula, "Eastbay was the first time that you could bring the mall to your home." DePaula was also obsessed with the catalog as a youngster. "I always joke with people, I was reading the sports page and Eastbay with my cereal every morning," he says.

Back then, I knew I'd never have the money to afford the Nike sneakers or Starter brand jackets I coveted so much, but it was still fun to learn about all the technology and features every brand put into their products. The level of detail included in every listing was unmatched, down to how much each pair of shoes weighed in ounces.

Eastbay was founded in 1980 by Art Juedes and Rick Gering, who began by selling running shoes out of a van in north-central Wisconsin. The company grew into a national mail-order retailer and, eventually, was bought by Foot Locker in 1997.

At its peak, it employed more than 2,000 people at its headquarters in Wausau, Wi. and handled distribution for Foot Locker, Eastbay and Champs Sports. Over the years, that number dwindled down to approximately 200 employees. According to Footlocker, most of them will be laid off by April later this year.

Eastbay itself pivoted to online sales years ago because of how the internet has changed how sneakers are marketed and sold.

Social media and apps can hype new shoe releases much quicker than a catalog can, and large shoe companies are increasingly selling directly to consumers without a retailer.

While the brand might be going away, it's hard not to remember that their reach was once everywhere.

NBA player and avid sneaker collector, PJ Tucker, recently told the LA Times that the Eastbay catalog was his "bible" growing up as a kid. "I would look at it like it was a school textbook," he said.

Since the announcement, social media has been flooded with posts reminiscing about the mail-order catalog.

The Instagram account, Eastbay Archives, shares pictures of catalog covers and pages of retro issues from the glory days of the catalog. It only started in October 2022 but has quickly risen to nearly 10,000 followers since word that the company was coming to a close.

The account's posts have racked up dozens of comments of people professing their adoration for the old photos of catalog pages and their favorite sneakers, like one user who said, "they just don't make them like this anymore."

ESPN's Nick DePaula thinks Eastbay was kind of the first iteration of message boards and Instagram for sneaker culture. You could flip through one catalog and see some of the most popular models like the Jordan 11's, Nike Air Max 95's and Penny Hardaway editions, all in one place.

"It was the first portal into understanding the industry," DePaula said. "It was a great database behind the guise of a selling catalog. When you're 10 or 12 years old, you don't think of it in that way."

As I've done my own reminiscing for this story, I've realized some of the styles that influence me to this day kind of come from the Eastbay catalogs.

Even if I never actually got that pair of Deion Sanders Nike Air DT Max 96 I once saw in Eastbay's pages and still want today.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gus Contreras