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Paying the Debts
Andrew Lee has given this speech before — talking urban redevelopment as an organic thing, something that happens on the street level, in the hustle and bustle of the youth, the artists.
It's one block, one shop at a time.
“It's something the community has to do,” says Lee, the 28-year-old entrepreneur who opened Debts II Society, a streetwear shop/art galley at 1427 Kern St. in Chinatown. The store celebrates its soft opening today and has its grand opening from noon to 6 p.m. tomorrow with a full-on party, featuring music from Super Lucky Catz and DJ D-Soto, skate demos, a free barbecue and product giveaways.
Lee knows the timing for opening a retail store isn't the best, what with the bad economy and a baby he has on the way.
“I just had to do it,” says Lee, who moved from Los Angeles last year, where he ran Village Hill, a clothing company he helped start while attending art school in New York.
Fresno lags in terms of fashion, he says, and it's not meant to sound bad. It's more a question of opportunity than taste. There's a following for streetwear here, just few places to find it. There's FTK, he says, but they can't carry everything.
So, people shop online or travel to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
The shop is streetwear — T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and eventually denim and sneakers — but a little high-end. T-shirts start at $30, and that might seem steep, but Lee has worked hard to make sure this is exclusive stuff that isn't carried anywhere else in town. He also does color and trend forecasting each season, reads everything and watches what's happening in Tokyo and Seoul, Korea, and Denmark — yeah, Denmark is big. They brought neon to the market.
This is totally fashion forward — forget Ed Hardy and Affliction. These are established brands from New York and Japan, like "http://hellz-bellz.com/index3.htm">Hellz Bellz and Married to the Mob, Rocksmith Tokyo and Gatsby. Around here, that's trend setting.
That T-shirt? It might be one of four in the Central Valley, Lee says.
But Debts II Society is named so for a reason, and is more than fashion. It also serves as a gallery space — Robert Amador did work on the shop. Shawn Garcia will be showing for ArtHop in May. There's a pair of turntables set up if you want to try your hand, and a couch on one wall if you feel like watching TV with the guys.
Lee wants people from all over town — the West side, up north, downtown — to be able to come and hang out and have it mean more than just buying clothes.
If that helps cement this one small block of town, all the better.
Already, the Chinatown Youth Center is open on the corner. There's a music studio on one side and a screenprint shop on the other.
And this kind of redevelopment is not unheard of. Lee's seen it happen in Los Angeles on Fairfax Avenue, a run-down nothing of a street that's become a cultural hotspot. It's home to trendy boutiques like Undefeated, The Hundreds and Stussy and has been called the downtown Manhattan of Los Angeles.
“There is this block of bad-ass stores.”
Debts II Society grand-opening party
Noon to 6 p.m. April 25
Featuring free barbecue, live skate demos, music by B-95s DJ D-Soto and Super Lucky Catz and product giveaways.
1427 Kern St., Chinatown, Fresno