Coney sneaker store debuts new look one year after Sandy shutdown

Coney sneaker store debuts new look one year after Sandy shutdown
Photo by Steve Solomonson

A People’s Playground footwear mainstay has finally pulled free from Sandy’s mud — and revealed a great new design.

One year after the superstorm shut it down, Mermaid Avenue running-shoe depot Sneaker Town USA held its grand re-opening on Nov. 2, showing off a sleek, modernistic new take on its 40-year-old space.

“We gave it a totally new look,” said president and chief executive officer Walter Gauto. “We lost everything, so we thought, ‘why not bring it back with a little Coney Island excitement?’ ”

Gauto and his uncle — store founder Walter Chabel, known locally for four decades as “Mister Sandy” — replaced the 20-year-old white paneling and tables with a maze-like pattern of shelves, holding up an all-new inventory of shoes and related apparel.

Gauto said the shop lost more than 1,000 shoes — plus sweatpants, tracksuits, and socks — after getting swamped in five feet of water during the superstorm that struck just over a year ago.

Sneaking back: Mermaid Avenue shoe depot Sneaker Town USA re-opened on Nov. 2 — more than a year after Hurricane Sandy.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

The store had hurricane insurance, but the National Weather Service downgraded Sandy to a superstorm shortly before it made landfall — leaving Sneaker Town up the Coney Island Creek. But help from friends, neighbors, and the city allowed Gauto and his uncle to gut their store and treat the space for mold.

The store re-opened partially a month later to sell off its salvageable sneakers — though with a damaged and desolate-looking interior.

“We had no other choice really. We had to keep on working,” said Gauto. “The look was not appealing at all. It looked like a big empty warehouse.”

But the renovated store hit the ground running on Nov. 2, and quickly filled up with its old customers and employees.

“We had a lot of our regulars in over the weekend,” said Gauto. “It’s a good start.”

On display: Sneaker Town USA president Walter Gauto shows off his restored store.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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