Southwest Detroit music venue selling custom Vans slip-ons to raise money during coronavirus shutdown

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Southwest Detroit music venue El Club is now in the shoe business. 

Well, sort of. The 500-capacity club, located on Vernor Highway, has partnered with Vans for the shoe company's Foot the Bill program, an initiative designed to help small businesses through the COVID-19 shutdown. 

Vans is featuring a custom-designed El Club sneaker in its Vans Classic Slip-On silhouette on its website. Proceeds from sales of the sneaker, which costs $90 and is limited to 500 pairs, will benefit El Club, its overhead and its staff of 16 employees.

"Vans is going to save our ass and help a lot," says Drew Drialo, El Club's talent buyer. 

El Club is one of 34 nationwide restaurants, skate shops and music venues to be featured in the first wave of the Vans promotion, which will eventually include 80 businesses. Premier skate shop in Grand Rapids is also a part of the program.  

The sneaker is designed by Freddy Diaz, a Southwest Detroit artist known as SW Freddy, who got the call from El Club last week to put together a design and pulled an all-nighter to get it done on deadline. Diaz is also working on an upcoming gallery show which is set to do a virtual opening on April 17.

"It was literally crunch mode times three," Diaz says. 

The design is in an eye-popping pastel orange and features two dancing calacas, or skeletons, as well as other pieces of neighborhood flair. 

"I just wanted to create something that highlights the neighborhood and highlights businesses like El Club," says Diaz, 27. "Part of it was the community, and the other half is what the venue stands for.

"I feel like we represented not only El Club but Detroit very well," says Diaz. "Even if you’re not from Mexicantown or Southwest, I think if you see that shoe, it gives you a sense of pride and a sense of ownership to the shoe, and that’s what I was going for." 

El Club, which opened its doors in 2016 and regularly features indie rock and hip-hop acts, has canceled all shows through July; currently, its first concert back is scheduled to be California rock duo Best Coast on Sept. 14.

Best Coast was due to perform a sold-out show on March 13 — the band members had arrived and were ready to play — when the show was canceled following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order came down prohibiting events of more than 250 people. 

Since then, Drialo has had to cancel or postpone more than 20 shows — basically, everything he had booked since he started working at the venue in December. 

Working on rescheduling shows, he says agents are lowering ticket prices and restructuring deals, and Drialo is expecting to sell less tickets once concerts come back. "Everybody, across the industry, is expecting things to be slowed down for a little while," he says. 

El Club has been looking to stay afloat in other ways. The club has been selling venue-branded T-shirts and Drialo says he's been "blown away by the support. We almost weren't going to sell them, and we ended up selling 200 in one week," he says. 

The venue has also been selling its signature pizza, and the club's employees have been delivering it to customers.

In addition, El Club has been giving away free pizza on Wednesdays between noon and 3 p.m. "During this whole thing, we've been trying to figure out ways to support the community," says Drialo. 

It was a post about the free pizza on the venue's Instagram page that first got the attention of Vans and lead to the shoe company reaching out about the Foot the Bill program. 

So far, more than 100 pairs of the sneakers have already been sold, Drialo says. The support, both from vans and from patrons of the club, "feels really genuine," he says. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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