Sidewalk Surfer

Desert retailer weathers the heat for over two decades.

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert just east of Phoenix lies “The West’s Most Western Town,” Scottsdale, Arizona. With a median temperature of 70 degrees and over 300 days of sunshine, Scottsdale provides ideal weather for skateboarding¿except for the three-plus months of triple-digit heat. Amid the multitude of golf courses and the hordes of kids is a skate shop that has called Scottsdale its home for 22 years.

Sidewalk Surfer, owned and operated by Sandie Hamilton, opened on October 15, 1977 in a 475-square-foot office space in the Scottsdale Civic Center for an initial investment of 3,000 dollars. Witnessing the demand for skateboarding firsthand through her kids and their friends, Hamilton made a simple calculation and determined that it would benefit the local skaters and be worthwhile financially to open a skate shop in her area.

After seven years at its first location, Sidewalk Surfer was forced to move out because kids visiting the local shop would skate in the parking lot and the immediate area, annoying neighboring shopkeepers. So at its second location on Hayden and Thomas, Sidewalk Surfer was able to expand and managed to stay at that location for eight years before being asked to relocate once again. Sidewalk Surfer has remained at its current location on Scottsdale Road for the past seven years, was able to increase its floor space to 5,000 square feet, and stocks an inventory worth in excess of 500,000 dollars.

Along with carrying close to 400 decks and filling two display cases with trucks and wheels, Sidewalk Surfer also caters to the mainstream consumer with an array of clothing and shoes. “We sell shoes to everybody,” says Hamilton. “We sell them to girls, to dads, to moms, and to little brother because he has to copy big brother, whether he skates or not.”

Even though skateboard hard- and softgoods make up as much as 60 percent of Sidewalk’s total sales, Hamilton also sells and rents in-line skates to supplement the store’s revenue. The store also stocks a selection of snowboards, sandals, bikinis, boardshorts, and plenty of accessories, including sunglasses, and Go-peds. Carrying a wide variety of apparel and shoes with a community college and Arizona State University closeby, Sidewalk Surfer enjoys a five-week back-to-school buying period that boosts sales in the softgood category.

Lately, Sidewalk Surfer has seen an influx of young kids with their parents, and has adjusted its inventory to cater to their needs. “I think the X-Games have made such a big impression on the parents that they accept skateboarding¿where they didn’t before,” says Hamilton, adding that kids are asking for Tony Hawk gear by the truckload. “We’ve got Birdhouse because all the little kids have to have Tony Hawk. Tony’s on TV a lot, so they relate to him. I would say four out of five little kids will pick Tony Hawk boards.” Sidewalk Surfer has also expanded its clothing selection to include Hawk Clothing, which is marketed and sized for the next generation.

The skateboarding boom has come to Arizona in a big way, resulting in the completion of four skateparks all around the Phoenix area¿Desert West in Phoenix three years ago, Scottsdale two years ago, and Chandler and Mesa last year. Hamilton says it took five years for the local park in Scottsdale to be built because of the heavy opposition from the people living around the area. This wasn’t Hamilton’s first battle with city council, though: “I went to city council 22 years ago and asked them for a skatepark, and they thought I was out of my mind.”

The recent growth in skateboarding hasn’t really changed the way Sidewalk Surfer does business, compared to a decade ago. Hamilton still orders direct from manufacturers, but instead of ordering twenty decks of a single model from a handful of companies, she takes advantage of the variety of companies, ordering a few boaards from many different brands.

One thing Sidewalk Surfer has changed is the capacity in which they sponsor riders and host demos. “I sponsored teams way back when nobody else had a team,” says Hamilton. “We used to do demos and all this stuff, but now I’ll let the other guys do all that.” Not seeing the benefits of doling out free product and discounts to a team, Sidewalk Surfer focuses on giving every customer a fair deal.

Nowadays Sidewalk Surfer concentrates its energy on paying attention to the customer and keeping up with the trends. Hamilton and her staff stay on top of the skate and snow scenes by visiting the ASR Trade Expos in both San Diego and Long Beach, and the SIA show in Las Vegas.

Because the winters have been so dry in Arizona for the past couple years, snowboarding sales have leveled off, and skateboards continue to sell. “You can’t defeat Mother Nature,” says Hamilton. “Skateboarding’s always good¿we have sun 99 percent of the year.”

Arizona provides the ideal environment for a thriving skatescene: the sun shines the majority of the time, communities have addressed the needs of skaters by constructing numerous skateparks across the state, and Sidewalk Surfer has been supplying the masses seemingly forever.