Storefront: NJ 4
Words: Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag, May 2011
Chris Nieratko and Steve Lenardo had been waiting for something to open up in Princeton, NJ for over three years when an existing skate shop closed its doors in early 2010. Simply put, they jumped on the vacancy and NJ 4 Skate Shop was born.
“We’d never open in a town with another skate shop,” Nieratko says. “There are far too few mom and pop stores making it these days. It’s a small skate community out here. We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone's business or bum people out.”
Life long friends, Steve and Chris always open stores in the towns they used spend their youth skating in.
“We grew up skating Sayreville (NJ 1),” says Nieratko. “As we got older we'd take buses to New Brunswick (NJ 2). Every skater from Jersey from our generation started their NYC sessions at the Lackawanna ledges in Hoboken (NJ 3). Princeton was another great college town filled with spots that we used to hit.”
But taking over an existing business, like the shop in Princeton, can be a double-edged sword.
“You have an existing customer base that loves the old store,” says Nieratko. “But there are also those who may not have liked the vibe or products and you have to work extra hard to let them know that this is a different shop now—owned and operated by skateboarders.”
And “skater owned and operated” is an integral part of NJ … Nieratko doesn’t hesitate to stand up for independent skateboard shops like his own.
“The skateboarding industry is losing touch with its roots, where the top pros come from and where traveling pros go to first to find spots while they’re visiting. Nocturnal in Philly, MIA in Miami, FTC in SF, Cal Skate in Portland, Escapist in Kansas City, Faith in Alabama, Familia in Minneapolis, Stratosphere in Atlanta, Pit Crew in Frederick and so many others are the shops giving us our Maltos, Gilleys and Matt Millers. Hell, Stratosphere’s Thomas Taylor literally produced one of the sickest skaters ever.
“There’s a lot of people putting themselves in financial ruin because they love skateboarding,” Nieratko continues. “Even with four doors, my partner Steve and I still need to work day jobs to provide for our families. Our goal with NJ was never to get rich. It was, and always will be, to do positive things for skateboarding in New Jersey.
Nieratko believes that small shops humanize the consumer. Everyone that works in an NJ store also skates for the team. The kids coming in to shop or hang out need not wonder if the employees skate because it’s obvious that they do.
“The skaters that come to NJ aren’t dollar signs in torn shoes to us,” says Nieratko. “They have names and jobs and families. As we get to know them and their interests we can let them know, the minute they walk in the door, that we just got an order of Krooked decks, Leo Romero’s new shoe or whatever they’re into. Whereas some kook at the mall who doesn’t skate or know which way your truck goes on is going to try and sell you Grind Kings with dollar bills printed on them because the commission is higher. Five minutes after you leave a big chain store you cease to exist.”
And, speaking of existing, one of the most common questions Chris and Steve get is if they will ever open a shop outside of NJ.
“I love that question,” Nieratko replies. “We get it all the time but the name doesn’t exactly lend itself to being anywhere else. But I would like to open one in NYC so we can stop joking that New York’s Finest skate shop is in New Jersey.”
72 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542