The BLX = Blocks = Skateboard shop on Toole
October 31, 2011
By Teya Vitu
Except for the skateboards, wheels and trucks right at the front counter, you’d never really know that The BLX Skate Shop is entirely dedicated to the skateboard culture.
The BLX (pronounced Blocks) upends any preconceived ideas of a skateboard shop.Brother owners Kenzo and Zen Butler and partner Jerry Jordan have created more of a boutique with stylish fashions, spacious floor space and a concise retail arrangement at The Arches high-ceilinged warehouse, 35 E. Toole Ave.
“If you’re looking for a place to find really awesome stuff, this is it, whether you’re a skateboarder or not,” said Jordan, the retail visionary of the threesome.
He’s not kidding. There are even collared button shirts, jackets an engineer might wear, along with higher quality t-shirts mixed in with more routine quality t-s.
“We try to make sure we have all parts of the spectrum,” Jordan said. “If parents actually come into this shop, and don’t freak out, they could actually buy something. Anybody can wear any of this stuff.”They carry the popular skateboarding shoe lines Huf, Supra and Lakai, and even Converse has a line accepted by skateboarders. The shoes have a flat, wide appearance.
“The shoe has to grip the board” Zen Butler said.
“You’ve gotta feel the board under the shoe,” Jordan continued. “The shoe is designed to resist the friction from the grip tape and the wear and tear when doing tricks and the impact of doing tricks.”
The trio are all skateboarders themselves, albeit from an “older” generation still in touch with what they describe as the “golden age of skateboard,” defined as mid-1970s to later 1980s.
Discreet corners have small collections of vinyl records, VHS tapes and books, and a record player atop a cabinet up front surely must have some in the younger generation scratching their heads.
“All of this stuff attracted us, made us skateboarders,” said Jordan, 33, the elder of the three. Kenzo is 30 and Zen is 28.
They opened The BLX on Oct. 1 on a stretch of road not exactly thriving as a retail center or even a stop-the-car place. They don’t think of it that way.
“Since Downtown is the heart of skateboarding, this is an ideal location,” Jordan said.The Oct. 22 massive streetscape makeover planted a tree right in front of their store, a tree in a concrete culvert that could be mighty tempting for a skateboarder.
“This is great,” Jordan said about the streetscape improvements, not the skateboarding acrobatic potential. “Life. Life is coming back to an area that’s been neglected for a long time.”
The trio remembers when Downtown was the focal point for all skateboarding, especially the concrete salad at El Presidio Plaza, known as The Blocks in the skateboarding world. Until 1994, skateboarders had permission to skateboard there after 5 p.m.
“Tucson has one of the best skateboarding scenes in the country,” Jordan said. “Not a lot of people know that.”
Skateboarders got the skate park at Randolph Park in exchange for no longer skating at The Blocks, but Randolph does not compare to El Presidio.
“We want to get politically active and approach the City Council and get The Blocks back,” Jordan said. “In pretty much every city, we’re strong guardians of architecture, strange as it sounds. We’re just as interested in preserving and maintaining the architecture we want to skate on. We’re willing to work to make it aesthetically pleasing and skateable.”
Like rock and rollers now in retirement age, skateboarders now have multiple generations with early pros these days in the later 40s. The BLX team is in that middle generation.“We have more respect for property,” Jordan said. “The way we interact with people who don’t skate. We’ve grown up. As adults, we are providers.”
The BLX grew out of a skateboard hard goods and apparel company called Larosa that Jordan and Kenzo Butler started in 2008. They design boards and apparel and outsource the manufacturing.
Kenzo also owns the Staring Without Caring tattoo shop.
The BLX didn’t end up at The Arches by accident.
Six years ago, Jordan got a studio space at Solar Culture, next door to The Arches. Both warehouses are rented by Steven Eye these days.
Jordan didn’t just plant The BLX into the corner space at The Arches. First, a year ago, he talked the prior tenant, Lulubell Toy Bodega, to move in because he was friends with co-owner Amy Del Castillo. Lulubell had a brief life at The Arches from October 2010 to July, when Del Castillo moved to Phoenix on the urging of Kenzo Butler.
There was no grand design to open The BLX in the same space.
“It was definitely spur of the moment,” Jordan said. “As soon as that happened (Del Castillo moving), Kenzo was already in ant mode. This whole thing has been snowballing since I was at Solar Culture. Steven Eye planted me, then there was a Kenzo sprout and then a Zen sprout.”