Kelvin Wright shows off some of the shoes for sale at his sneaker boutique, Fresh Exclusive, in Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Glenn Burkins for Qcitymetro.com.)
In Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood off Central Avenue, you’ll find a cluster of restaurants, art galleries and retail shops offering an eclectic mix of hard-to-find treasures — both new and old.
Among them is Fresh Exclusive, an upscale sneaker boutique that carries unique kicks, most of which will not be available at other retail stores for months to come. Owner Kelvin “Fresh” Wright has also garnered a reputation for locating vintage or limited edition sneakers that are hard to come by.
“We go for anything that’s really rare … shoes that if you get them, you are lucky,” said Wright. “That’s what the guys love. Everybody wants something completely different from what anybody else has, and they want it early.”
Of course such exclusivity comes at a price.
“It’s supply and demand,” he said. “Many clients will pay whatever to get what they want. They don’t care what they have to spend. They want it when they want it, and we make it happen.”
The store’s clientele consists of a wide range of sneaker collectors — from the teenagers willing to spend an entire paycheck to A-list celebrities, artists, and athletes.
Wright, a native of Spartanburg, S.C., said the idea for Fresh Exclusive came to him a few years back while he was visiting New York City for the first time and stopped inside the House of Hoops (a Nike concept store in Harlem). He walked in not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary, but said his mind was blown as he laid eyes on sneakers that he never even knew existed. “I was in awe,” he said.
The experience inspired him to open a store of his own.
“I wanted to have a store as big as those stores that offered that [selection] down South because it wasn’t available,” said Wright. “No one was offering it. It was a complete void in this market. It was and still is.”
When he first came up with the idea, Wright said many people doubted him.
“They said that it would never happen,” he recalled. “I was told that nobody would ever pay this much money for shoes or pay for shoes that were high priced and exclusive. But that’s the purpose of having a boutique — you give them the option. If you don’t give them the option, then how can they purchase it?”
Prior to opening his boutique, Wright worked at the bank.
“I hated my job,” he said. “But I felt like if I kept grinding it out, and kept praying and staying focused, I knew that it was going to happen, and it’s here … I needed this. I just had to have it. I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.”
Initially, Wright had his heart set on locating his store in uptown Charlotte, but changed his mind when his cousin, who is also a silent partner, found the current location. Wright said the moment he saw it, he instantly knew that it was perfect. That was last February. Four weeks later the store was open.
“Ever since then we have been rocking and rolling,” Wright said, adding that he loves the location. “It’s a lot of walk-by traffic. The people are so nice. Plus, there are so many places here that you can go shopping.”
Although successful, Wright’s first year has not been without setbacks. In August, his store was robbed and vandalized. “That had me closed for two months,” he said. “You can only imagine what that does to a small business, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise.”
He said the downtime actually gave his business an extra boost.
“People were waiting for me to reopen,” he said. “They waited for us to get everything together and just come back better than ever. And that’s what we did, but to see how our customers reacted … that appreciation means everything.”
Fresh Exclusive (2001 Commonwealth Ave.; 704-335-0202). freshexclusive.com.
Getting There: A lot of great shops are within walking distance of Fresh Exclusive, so leave the car behind and make a day of it. Fresh Exclusive sits on the corner of Thomas Street and Commonwealth Avenue (about a block from Central Avenue). CATS bus routes 9 (Central Ave.) and 17 (Commonwealth Ave.) can get you there in less than 15 minutes from uptown. The bus will let you off right in front of the store. If it’s late in the evening or at night, you will likely see the bright colors of the interior design illuminating from the boutique’s front window. For information on the nearest Park and Ride lots, route schedules or to plan a trip from anywhere in the city, visit www.ridetransit.org.