If you’re a local resident of New Brunswick, you’ve probably ventured past the NJ Skateshop on your way to class or during a late night adventure to satisfy your munchies. But, if you’ve taken the time to actually venture inside, you’ve entered into a community space with swagged out apparel, a skateboard deck wall, and welcoming personnel.
In September of 2003, Chris Nieratko and Steve Lenardo opened the very first NJ Skateshop in Sayerville, NJ with a goal of servicing their local community in the town that they had grown up in. Four short years later, Hub City became home to the second NJ Skateshop with a focus on creating a space where kids could come inside, sit down, talk about skateboarding, read a magazine, or do their homework.
“There are a lot of young kids from New Brunswick that skateboard and it’s something that isn’t always embraced or really understood so we wanted to create a space where those kids, more than anyone, would feel welcomed. Steve and I are both fathers so we try to promote a family vibe in skateboarding,” added Chris.
“People know that they can come in here and that they can use our tools, or if one component is broken, we’ll take care of them, or if they have a box of boards that are broken, they can grab a new one.”
Just last year they moved their location to 160 Easton Ave with a new approach on how they could service others beyond just the skateboarding community.
“We feel like we’ve been talking to the same kind of person for the past 10 years. There are so many different kids that live in New Brunswick and students that go to Rutgers that we wanted to start having different conversations,” stated Chris.
“Our old location was a second story walk up at the other end of Easton, and it was covered from wall to wall with product. We maximized every inch of it even though it was a small space. We made it work for 9 years but then we thought we needed a change so we found 160 Easton. And we learned from our last 3 to 4 doors that we’ve had, that less is more. So, we presented differently and the hope was that we would leave the bulk of the walls open for local artists to hang their stuff. Art and music have always been near and dear to our hearts and we wanted to be able to display more of it.”
And so, NJ Skateshop began hosting live events, art displays, and comedy shows after hours.
In April, NJ hosted UNherD, a three part archival project that recognizes twenty-four Rutgers women who join a legacy of resistance at the University. Their stories were shared through portrait, poetry, and documentary. A few weeks ago, NJ opened up their shop on a Saturday evening and hosted The Neighborhood Watch, a nonprofit music series that showcases producers and DJs in intimate spaces. Members of the community gathered together to listen to music by local artists, mingle, and support recent hurricane victims by fundraising and donating lightly used clothing.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Berkowitz
“The galvanizing of a community is my favorite thing about the shop,” mentioned Chris. “When we have events and 150 people come out to support, that’s cool! They’re down for us as much as we’re down for them. At the end of the day, it’s not about commerce, I mean we do have to keep the lights on, but it’s about helping our community and that is really important for anyone if they’re going to last to try to have that approach.”
NJ Skateshop is far from a faceless business; the owners and workers prioritize building relationships with Hub City members. “We know our community. People come in to chat and we know people’s names. That’s why we love having events, because we love seeing people come together. So, that’s why we want to open up our space to more art shows, live music, etc.”
To find out more information about NJ Skateshop you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@NjSkateshop), check out their website njskateshop.com, or you can just walk into their store and strike up a conversation with someone from our vibrant community.