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Big plans for Detroit sneaker-exchange store dunked by COVID-19 shutdown

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Frederick Paul II had big plans for his sneaker-exchange company, Fahrenheit 313.

After four years as a pop-up, he had a grand opening in March for his storefront on the Livernois Avenue of Fashion. More than 100 people shopped among the walls of rare and collectible sneakers. Come summer, the 28-year-old expected to expand store hours from weekends to seven days.

Then the coronavirus outbreak struck Detroit, and the expanding plans for the storefront at 20114 Livernois were put on hold.

Fahrenheit 313 owner Frederick Paul shows some of the detail on the Nike Air Jordan 4's in 'Bred', a combination of black and red coloring.

At first, Paul tried curbside pick up. Then came the order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that all non-essential businesses be closed. For weeks, he's been among the multitude of small-business owners who have locked their doors.

In late April, Paul launched a "fire sale" offering discount prices on shoes and free shipping, and on May 1, he resumed curbside pick up on Saturdays and Sundays. He made 10 sales within 10 days, he said.

"So business has been pretty steady since we did that fire sale and surprisingly throughout this pandemic," he said. "I thought people would be saving and hoarding their money, which makes sense, but everyone's still been purchasing."

Paul was a cash-strapped college student when he founded his company, formerly called the Heat Factory, in 2016. He began offering rare deadstock and vintage sneakers during pop-up events while balancing work for a sales and marketing firm.

Fahrenheit 313 owner Frederick Paul pulls off the wall some Nike Air Jordan 5's in 'Fire Red.'

He found the location that would become his business’ storefront after receiving a $25,000 Motor City Match space award and the TechTown Retail Bootcamp Pitch Showcase award. A small crew worked several months making cosmetic updates to the building. 

A display of athletic sneakers, including brands Adidas and Nike, line one wall while shop-brand T-shirts and hats line the other. The walls are painted white with yellow industrial stripes and areas of exposed brick. The ceiling and upper perimeter of the walls are blackened, giving the appearance they were scorched by flames.

"When you walk in, we tried to give that aspect as if you’re in an old Detroit factory," Paul said. "We tried to incorporate that grittiness that Detroit has — that hard-working attitude that really is Detroit. We tried to display that in our retail storefront. We were not trying to look like a luxury brand where everything is clean-cut."

Customers can sell their new or gently worn shoes to the store and receive cash or a store credit toward the purchase of another pair. In a sneaker exchange program set to launch this summer members will be able to trade sneakers.

He's still selling sneakers online: The Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 (size 6) in light yellow and gray is selling for $300. The Air Jordan 1 low OG (size 9) in black and red has a $300 asking price.

One of his most valuable pair of shoes, Frederick Paul shows off a pair of original 1991 Air Jordan 3's, despite some damage from use.

Paul also launched the Sneaker Madness Tournament 2020 on Instagram with tournament-style brackets where followers can vote on what they think is the hottest sneaker. In the end, one shoe — the Air Jordan 11 “Bred" — was crowned the Holy Grail of sneakers.

This week, Fahrenheit 313 announced a "Mask4Masks" fundraiser where the auction of three custom painted military-style prop masks — similar to one Paul wears in promo materials — will fund the donation of standard face masks to people in need.

"We were trying to find a way we could support people during this time," he said.

Paul's background in marketing will serve him well, said Earl Landsman of Strategic Financial Partners, a business consulting firm in Detroit. Prior to the store opening, Landsman worked with Paul to refine his business strategy. 

"He has a really good insight into the products and who his customers are," Landsman said. 

Like all small-business owners, Paul doesn't know how long it will be before he can reopen his storefront to foot traffic.

He hopes to keep his business afloat with an economic injury disaster loan from the Small Business Administration, grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and an emergency fund from the TechTown business incubator for small businesses in Detroit hurt by the shutdown.

"All the applications and things we had been applying for, they're starting to come back, and we're getting those funds that can help pay rent and keep our store open, so that's been great," he said.

Until then, he's hoping for more online sales in a time when vintage sneakers for many have become non-essential purchases. And like the sneaker tournament, he's planning more online content to keep customers entertained.

“We’re just trying to get everyone’s mind off of everything that’s going on," he said.

Fahrenheit 313 owner Frederick Paul had just had a successful grand opening of his sneaker-exchange store on Detroit's Avenue of Fashion. Then the COVID-19 shutdown hit.

Fahrenheit 313

Located: 20114 Livernois Ave., Detroit

Online: www.fahrenheit313.com

Curbside pick-up hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN