Michael Bryant and his wife were sitting at the dinner table one night trying to decide what to call his new store. They volleyed a few names around when Bryant remembered two things: His wife's beater car in high school was a 1979 Toyota Corolla Deluxe, and one of Nike's classic shoes was called the Air Max Deluxe Running shoe. The Deluxe seemed an obvious choice. And since March of this year, Bryant has been working hard to get his shop—where downstairs he sells reissues of classic sport shoes, a few T-shirts and a handful of Transformers and G.I. Joe action figures and upstairs he maintains a small art gallery—to a point where it's putting food on that dinner table and more fancy kicks on his 8-week-old son's feet (he just bought him a pair of tiny Air Jordans with a little matching skull cap).
A visit to Bryant's business on 9th Street made it clear pretty quickly that the genesis of the store stemmed from his own love of classic '80s and '90s shoes (his personal collection is between 150 and 200 pair), pop culture and pop art. But it took him a little while to get here.
He graduated from Boise State with a degree in art education. "I substituted for one semester, and that was enough," he says. "I definitely would love to go back and teach someday, but I'd like to go to graduate school and teach at the college level."
During college, he'd worked in a couple of hotels and, before long, was in hotel management. "But the whole time, I was buying shoes," he says. With a store like The Deluxe in mind? "Not necessarily. When I first went to school, I studied design. I wanted to work for Nike and design shoes. All through high school, I was always drawing on my shoes. Instead of pictures of a girlfriend or a supermodel in my locker, I had pictures of shoes," he laughs.
But Bryant couldn't afford the shoes he looked at every day. "I had two pairs of nice shoes in high school. That was it." He points to a pair of shoes in his store. "Those are just like the ones I had in my freshman year. Neon orange with gray and purple. That was the first pair of nice shoes I ever had. I split the cost with my mom.
"All through the years, I would see these amazing shoes come and go, but I didn't have the [money] for them. Now [the shoe companies] are reissuing all of my old favorites. And now that they're a little more accessible, I've gone crazy."
His knowledge of Nike, Reebok and other shoe companies is a bit astounding. "[Nike] started reissuing Air Jordans in around '98. There are companies that carry their classics all the way through, like Converse. The canvas Chuck Taylors were the first shoe worn off the court for regular wear," Bryant explains. "Adidas had certain styles they kept making. But having a shoe around only for a season started with Air Jordans. They were the first shoes where the next season, there would be a totally different model. Whereas Kareem Abdul Jabar would have his name on the same shoe four years in a row, [Michael] Jordan was the first guy with the series concept. As a matter of fact, in February, they're coming out with the 23rd edition of Air Jordan signature shoe."
Beyond the shoes in his store, there's the odd collection of collectibles. And what's even more interesting is that his interest in Transformers and G.I. Joe toys stretches over into his artistic side.
Up a flight of wooden stairs from the main floor of his store is a gorgeous loft area with a stunning, cylindrical skylight where he keeps an office and a small art gallery. "These are just walls that don't get used, and I wanted to take advantage of them," Bryant says. It is here that he will be displaying the six or seven late '80s to early '90s skateboard decks and a couple pairs of shoes (specially designed to hold ink or paint) he's painting for this upcoming First Thursday. It is also here where he displays his canvases of bright neon and primary color depicting snapshots of his world: a pair of sneakers hanging over a telephone wire; a view of the alley near his store; an image of Main Street with a giant head looming over the buildings. He's even painted a Transformer and Snake-Eyes, a super tough G.I. Joe character.
"Last [First Thursday], I had some more classical art connoisseurs come through. They just kind of scratched their heads. They didn't even want to ask questions. Except for one guy. He asked why I use neon instead of regular colors. I said, 'It's supposed to be loud. That's the whole point.'"
The Deluxe will be open late this First Thursday. Bryant is also looking for other artists to show in his gallery. The Deluxe, 214 N. 9th St., 208-424-0315, DLX208.com. Hours are Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.