Eastbay, an institution in the sneaker retail business, is closing for good at the end of 2022.
Founded in Wausau, WI in 1980 by Art Juedes and Rick Gering, Eastbay began as a mobile “shoe clinic” around central Wisconsin, with a brick and mortar store. It later grew its business as a mail-order retailer, and was later acquired by Foot Locker, Inc. in 1997.
For many, Eastbay is best known for its mail-order catalogs. It gained a huge following among sneaker fanatics across the nation who often relied on these monthly magazines to discover what was new in the world of sneakers. Before the days of sneaker media companies and forums, Eastbay catalogs were among the very few sources of material available for consumption as they provided direct information from the brands. In the 1990s, when having a sneaker “collection” was hardly the norm, many lived vicariously through these catalogs, and for the more obscure footwear models, these catalogs and the online scans that followed are the only public documentation that exist. With the business being focused on team sports, Eastbay was the only place to find certain team-based colorways of basketball sneakers, football cleats, and the like. Today, Eastbay catalogs are in-demand collector’s items, and the current mailing list for the catalogs is over 400,000 subscribers deep.
As sneaker culture progressed, Eastbay grew as a primary source of retail commerce — particularly for those who did not live in major cities with brand flagship stores and boutiques. Despite lacking a store-front with innovative and chic design, Eastbay still carried a healthy stock of top-shelf performance-minded product such as Air Jordan retros, limited edition basketball shoes, limited edition training/running, and more.
For Wausau locals, Eastbay will be remembered for its crazy clearance sales, particularly for returned, gently used product. Finding near-new Air Jordan Retros for $19.99 was not uncommon during these events, although that diminished greatly as time progressed.
On a business standpoint, shuttering Eastbay and pulling out of a small city makes sense, but removing a pillar of a community with decades of roots will be a challenging adjustment for Wausau natives. A Foot Locker spokesperson said in a statement to Wisconsin Public Radio. “We are working with the impacted team members to provide potential opportunities within the company, a competitive severance package, a stay bonus and career services support.” (via wpr).
Currently, the Eastbay website has a comprehensive FAQ page that covers important topics regarding personal information. Eastbay also encourages shoppers to direct their attention to champssports.com, also owned by Foot Locker, Inc. Layoffs will begin in late January; the center will close by the end of April. The company will retain a call center and some corporate positions in the city.