It just snowed, and Oskar Barrett has four weeks left to open a skateshop.
It’s mid-October, and the Snelling Avenue storefront is papered over, save for a green sticker announcing “After Hours Skateshop” and “Coming Soon.” The interior is white, with plastic on the floor and fresh paint on the walls, and blue masking tape marks out eventual display cases and walls for boards and shoes. One of Barrett's business partners, Mark Rodriguez, urges him to repeat the date of the shop’s grand opening, their self-imposed deadline, to underscore the “Coming Soon” on the window and to make the date more real. “November fifth,” Barrett says.
A new Twin Cities skateshop is good news because skateshops are a cool and necessary third place, but it’s After Hours’ address at Snelling and St. Clair avenues that makes it unique. Twin Cities skateboarding tilts toward the west metro, with Uptown Minneapolis being of particular gravity. Meanwhile, for the past 30-plus years, St. Paul has seen its skateshops come and go—sometimes ditching for Minneapolis—with the most recent skateboard storefront, an extension of Minneapolis’s Familia Skateshop, closing prior to the pandemic.
Barrett, 27, and Rodriguez, 39, are confident their venture will succeed, in part because of a small skatepark boom in St. Paul and in part due to their skateboard business bonafides: Rodriguez is owner of Golden Valley’s 3rd Lair Skatepark, the metro’s large indoor park, where Barrett has worked a half dozen years. They consider the new shop both an extension of and a new spin on 3rd Lair’s 25-year history. But put simply, says Rodriguez, “St. Paul needs a skateshop.”
On Twin Cities skateboarding’s westward tilt: It’s been that way forever. In the late ’80s and early ‘90s, the scene’s Uptown connection was well-established. Now-defunct The Alternative was on Hennepin Avenue, long-defunct chain Aljohn’s Beach & Board was in Calhoun Square, and there was Lake Street’s Calsurf, which opened on April 1, 1988. It’s still in business today.
Of course, there was action in St. Paul. Pat Waters, 51, grew up skating in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood. Waters says a lot of the shops in the mid- to late-’80s were part of a “bizarre surfer scene.” Aljohns, which had another location at St. Paul’s Bandana Square, was perhaps the worst offender, with bikinis in the windows and Sex Wax, largely to wholly useless in Minnesota, on the counter. “You’d go to some of those places as a skater and it just sucked,” Waters says. “They didn’t know shit.”
He opened Pat’s Skate Shop in May 1988 in a 12-by-12-foot space above the former Trend Bar on University Avenue. He was 17. “Our shop had a different flavor,” says Waters. He didn’t stock the hugely popular but sort of nerdy Powell Peralta, instead embracing (out of necessity, because he says other shops in town got him blacklisted by his main product distributor) World Industries, an upstart that would go on to dominate skateboard culture in the early ’90s.
There could be some antagonism, say, if someone affiliated with a shop from the other side of the river came into Pat’s. “Go back to Minneapolis,” Waters says he remembers thinking, “go back to Uptown, go back to your surf shops.”
Despite the pride in his St. Paul turf, Waters eventually moved his shop to Minneapolis. “I thought it would be cool to have a shop downtown, because that’s where all the skating was,” he says.
That iteration of Pat’s Skate Shop, on the same block as the Salvation Army in the Warehouse District, lasted from April to October of 1994. Rodriguez, who grew up in West St. Paul, echoes the feeling that the skate action was always elsewhere. “It felt like a huge bummer … that everything is happening in this other city.” Adds Barrett, who came up skating in St. Paul’s Highland Park: “We’ve all had that drive to Minneapolis to skate or to buy a board.”
From the mid- ’90s on, other St. Paul shops would come and go. Fobia, a future downtown Minneapolis mainstay in the late-'90s and early-2000s, which had a two-story shop at the corner of First and Washington avenues, was for a mid-'90s moment located in the 2500 block of University Avenue. Skateboard videomaker Pete Spooner says he bought his first skateboard in ‘98 or ‘99 at the Green Gecko, a spot formerly in the 1600 block of Grand Avenue. In junior high at the time, Spooner says he heard rumors it got shut down for selling weed–it was that type of place. In high school, Spooner helped run another St. Paul skateshop, Expression, which was backed by the organization Youth Express, which still runs Express Bike Shop on Selby Avenue. Expression lasted about a year in the early 2000s.
Familia Skateshop, backed by owner and pro skater Steve Nesser, debuted on Snelling Avenue near Highland Parkway in 2006. At its first anniversary event the shop hosted Tony Hawk, before moving a couple years later to its current location in the 2800 block of Hennepin Avenue in Uptown. Familia also had a location, briefly, at Selby and Dale Street.
After Hours Skateshop should have a leg up on all former St. Paul shops because there’s more to skate in the city than ever. In recent years, Barrett notes, the number of St. Paul skateparks has doubled, with the Palace Pop Up at Palace Park in West Seventh and the city’s newest skatepark, Gateway Park, at the Highland Bridge development. The spots have been well-received by skaters, the former embraced by hardcore types and the latter by all, and both are less than 10 minutes from the new shop.
Spooner says that could be key. “Skateshops [need to be where] skaters are skating—Fobia in downtown lasted a long time because that’s where all the skaters went.”
The partnership group behind the shop, beyond Barrett and Rodriguez, includes 3rd Lair’s Adam Sterne and Jamie “Swamp Trog” Kaul, and Jack Olson, an L.A.-based pro skateboarder from St. Louis Park, for added street cred. Barrett says After Hours is “all about experimentation.” He plans to focus on local skate brands, while perhaps offering non-skate merchandise created by local skaters, and seeks to create more than just a store. “I want to present the skateboard community in a new light,” he says. “It’s a fresh start over here, there’s not another skateshop down the road.”
After Hours Skateshop’s Nov. 5 grand opening will include the premieres of two local skateboard videos. It’s located at 251 Snelling Ave. S. in St. Paul.The shop is on Instagram: @afterhours.skateshop.