Photos by Andy Harrington

nyc skaters on how labor became the city's most beloved skateshop

The LES store sells all the necessary gear, but founder James Rewolinski has always been there to support the local community.

by Nicole DeMarco; photos by Andy Harrington
|
Sep 26 2019, 5:00pm

Photos by Andy Harrington

When James Rewolinski founded Labor Skateshop in 2012, he considered a number of neighborhoods in New York City before deciding on a space in the Lower East Side, close to the trains and conveniently located between Tompkins Square Park and LES skatepark. While the neighborhood was a little less lively at the time, Labor sits on what’s lovingly referred to as Dimes Square (after the nearby restaurant of the same name) and now it feels like the center of the world for downtown cool kids and skaters alike. Many of whom have found their closest friends and community through the shop itself.

“Before I found out about Labor I would go to shops like Zumiez for my boards, where nobody actually skated,” says 18-year-old Luc Regnie. “Labor opened my eyes to the skate community downtown and acted as a haven for me to connect with lots of kids who share the same interests. Since the shop opened, it's quickly become a center for the downtown community.”

Labor sells everything from boards and gear to clothing and magazines, but Rewolinski’s main goal has always been to support and nurture the local skating community. Kids from nearly every borough come to the shop because it’s become their support system — a place where they can ask for advice, escape their home life, or simply connect with others who share a love of skating.

james-rewolinski-labor-skateshop

Since opening the shop, Rewolinski has seen a number of regular customers grow up. Young boys who came in to buy their first boards at five or six are now teenagers heading off to college or creatives launching their own skate brands. “We always try to make sure everyone’s doing well. It’s humbling to see someone that came in when they were really small and then they’re still coming in seven years later,” Rewolinski says. “We’ve seen people move away, some people pass away, some people get into some trouble or whatever, but it’s all part of the community of growth and change. So many people skate.”

In many ways, Labor also acts as a welcome post to skaters visiting the city from around the world, who might seek a home away from home amongst like-minded people or who are simply looking to explore a new city through skating. “People come through all the time, check in, and meet up here. Anywhere you go in the world, there’s a chance you go to the skateshop and run into someone you might have a mutual friend with or something. It’s this whole web of interconnectedness that ends up being pretty cool. It’s exciting to see that.”

“There are always going to be places to buy skateboards,” Rewolinski adds. “But I feel like if you can have a shop that has a little more of a personal touch, it’s not 100% about a bottom line, and it’s also about something else, it’s beneficial. There’s some aspect of community and the kids are holding that all together.”

i-D met up with some of the NYC skaters to find out what the shop means to them.

nyc-skaters
nyc-skaters

Eric Reinertson / 18 / East Village

How long have you been going to Labor?
I’ve been going to Labor since I think 2016, when I was 15.

What makes the shop so special?
I’ve shared so many special moments there over the years with so many important people in my life. It just holds a special place in my heart like no other shop does.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
They have taught me stuff that impacted me in a major way. There used to be two guys that worked there named Adam and Tom. I have such strong memories of staying at Labor the whole day ‘til closing, just chatting with them, and taking in all the advice they gave me.

What have they taught you that goes beyond skating?
It was like therapy for me. If I had something on my mind that was bothering me, I would go to Labor and talk to them about what’s going on and they would give me advice that I still keep with me to this day.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I first started skating towards the end of middle school. I would go to Tompkins a lot ‘cause I lived down the block and that’s where I met my first skate friends. Then from there my friend group got bigger and bigger. That’s pretty much what I love most about it — the community and the people I have met. It changed my life and Labor plays a very important role in keeping this community alive and together.

nyc-skaters

Kei Tsuruta / 18 / East Village

How long have you been going to Labor?
I’ve been going to Labor for about five years now.

What makes the shop so special?
It’s more than just a skateshop to so many of us. It’s more of a place of comfort where we can all hang out with our friends and talk to James. There’s a sense of security knowing that I can chill at Labor even if I’m not skating or buying anything.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
James and the other guys have always supported everything we do. I started a small skate brand called Homies Network recently, making t-shirts and other clothes. James offered to help us out and carry our items in the shop even though we aren’t a big name brand. He taught me the whole process of how skate shops and companies work with each other, which is essential in making a skate brand. A lot of things wouldn’t have been possible without Labor’s help.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I started skating when I was about 13. Skating is sick because there’s no one there to teach you anything. You fall, you get back up, and try again until you finally make it. It’s all up to you. There’s absolutely no better feeling than skating with your friends. Skateboarding found me amazing friends and brought me experiences I never expected.

nyc-skaters
nyc-skaters

Mecca Jihad Mshaka-Morris / 19 / Bed-Stuy

How long have you been going to Labor?
I’ve been going to Labor since I was 14.

What makes the shop so special?
I think the shop brings a lot of people together. It being in the convenient location of Lower Manhattan, right next to LES skatepark, makes it really close to home for NYC skaters.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
James has always been like family to me, always looking out and supportive as well as all the people who work/have worked there.

What have they taught you that goes beyond skating?
I think the one thing I’ve learned from the environment of Labor is that there is a way to be serious and laid back at the same time.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I first started skating when I was three years old and what I love about it is the idea that you can take your fun with you wherever you go.

NYC-SKATERS
NYC-SKATERS

Luke Lenski / 16 / Greenpoint

How long have you been going to Labor?
I’ve been going to the shop since I was 11, so five years.

What makes the shop so special?
I used to go to this shop close to my house in Brooklyn, but I started going to Labor because James and the whole crew welcomed me every time I walked in. I always felt really comfortable there and they have the best boards and shoes out of any shop.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
When it comes to the homies at the shop being role models, they made me want to be more creative and explore different hobbies other than skating. Tom who used to work at the shop makes really sick art and kind of made me start illustrating.

What have they taught you that goes beyond skating?
The people that work at Labor are the nicest and always have a genuine smile on their face. Cory is always so happy and just makes everyone feel comfortable. The shop has taught me to always be nice and good things will come around.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I started skating when I was 10 and I love the opportunities and friends it has provided me.

nyc-skaters
nyc-skaters

Radcliffe “Coles” Bailey / 16 / Bed-Stuy

How long have you been going to Labor?
Four years.

What makes the shop so special?
Labor is special because it’s the only real skateshop in Manhattan.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
James has played a mentor for skateboarding in my life and has helped me with an inexplicable amount of things. And this also goes for everyone at the shop as in Corey, JD, and Tom.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I was 10 when I first started skateboarding and I love it because you can keep learning new tricks and you can take tricks down stuff that you could really get hurt on.

nyc-skaters

Kyota Umeki / 17 / East Village

How long have you been going to Labor?
I’ve been going to Labor since I started skating about four years ago.

How have the guys you’ve met at the shop been role models for you?
James and all the workers have been role models for me because they know way more about skateboarding and helped me make new connections with many people.

What have they taught you that goes beyond skating?
They taught me not only about skating itself, but the industry and the business side behind it.

How old were you when you first started skating and what do you love most about it?
I started skating when I was around 12 or 13. It’s really fun because you meet so many people — skaters, filmmakers, photographers, business people, etc. Everyone you meet can help you grow and keep skating.