by Kevin Snow
There’s something for everyone in the Elmwood Village, including a pair of unique stores that have added another level of style to the hippest part of Buffalo.
To refer to Sole High as a store that sells athletic shoes would be doing a disservice to the footwear industry.
While the store carries a full line of sneakers at various price points, they’re best known for their limited and custom styles that can cost up to $5,500.
Co-owner Napolean “Polo” Kerber took a chance that Buffalo’s sneaker culture was ready for a high-end store.
“It was definitely a risk. I lived in New York City for a while, and I saw the various sneaker stores in the area. They’re everywhere,” said Kerber, a Buffalo native. “Prior to coming here I worked at Foot Locker, so I definitely knew there were a lot of people that were into it. But I didn’t know just how well it would be received.”
Sole High gained national attention during the NFL’s “My Cleats, My Cause” initiative during Week 13 this season, with 25 players around the league wearing custom cleats designed by artist Nicholas Avery. Several Buffalo Bills were among Sole High’s clients, including LeSean McCoy, Richie Incognito and Shaq Lawson.
“The majority of our custom work comes from word of mouth [among] athletes. We started doing some work with a few Bills players, then they talked to former college teammates and other players around the league, so it’s really grown that way. Now we’re starting to do some work with MLB and NHL players.”
Having recently closed their location in the Walden Galleria, Kerber and his crew are focusing their efforts on making the Elmwood store a true destination
“We’re in the process now of transforming it into more of a studio. We want to give it a cool vibe, make it more boutique-ish, and not turn it into a corporate look.”
Even if customers can’t afford to buy some of the shoes — including some rare high-end models purchased at sneaker conventions — many come just to see them on display.
“When it comes to the really expensive shoes, we only stock a couple, so people who are into the sneaker culture can actually see them up close and appreciate them,” said Kerber. “A lot of people look at sneakers as art, and if they can see it, hold it and take a picture of it, it’s something they won’t forget about.”
Call it fate, or simply a matter of perfect timing, but it sure appears that Kilby Bronstein was destined to become an owner of Half & Half Clothing.
A staple of the Elmwood Village for more than 40 years, Bronstein worked at the store while in high school and college under the guidance of owners Bill and Debbie Sidel. In late 2014, when the Sidels decided to retire and sell the business, Bronstein was one of the first people they reached out to.
“My mother (Jennifer) and I were looking for an investment opportunity. We had been considering properties or office space in various locations, but they all seemed so boring,” Bronstein said. “We wanted something that was exciting, and that would help in the continued revitalization of Buffalo. If they had asked us a year earlier, the answer probably would’ve been no. The timing was perfect.”
The Bronsteins took ownership of Half & Half in January 2016, and embarked on an ambitious three-month renovation of the building, both inside and out. When Half & Half re-opened in April of last year, the multi-level boutique featured recycled wood from the family’s horse farm incorporated into store’s design, along with custom lighting and fixtures created by Andrew Emerson.
“We wanted to do our part to make our building beautiful, sound and strong,” Bronstein explained. “It was important for us to do this because we consider this area to be the gateway to the Elmwood Village.”
Located on Elmwood between Forest and Bird, the store’s transformation wasn’t just limited to its physical appearance. While the Sidels had focused solely on women’s clothing, the Bronsteins broadened the product selection to include men’s wear and home goods.
Several of their new products are unique to Buffalo, such as the Amsterdam-based clothing line Scotch and Soda. Other new product lines include Hippy Tree and Woolrich.
Bronstein estimates that about 15-20 percent of the products are carryovers from the Sidels, including the popular Just Black Jeans. She’s noticed a definite overlap in the clientele, along with many new faces coming into the store.
“With price points ranging from $50 to $200, we like to think there’s something in here for everyone,” Bronstein explains. “That’s also why the addition of men’s wear was so important to us. And we wanted home goods because no place in this area really sells bedding, sheets or pillows. It was important to us to hit all areas, and continue to be part of the revitalization of Buffalo.”