JP Lotz has been part of the New York skateboarding community for decades now. He was one of the original founders of KCDC skate shop, former owner of Drop In skate park and most recently held down Homage Brooklyn skate shop… not to mention he rips on a skateboard. JP recently opened up his own skate shop, Alumni, just minutes away from the new skate park being built in Nyack, NY. We visited JP at the new shop and learned a bit about Alumni, skateboarding’s impact on his life, what can make or break a skate shop these days and his vision of skateboarding in 5 years. Read the full interview below.
Q. Let’s start with the basics – where did the name Alumni come from and when did the shop open?
This is a question I get asked pretty often. I’ll quote my [business] partner Jimi Turco, as it’s his words I always respond with:
“The name came from the idea of simply being inhabitants of earth. When you graduate from an institution you are labeled as Alumni. My education came from living life, traveling and meeting people along the way that inspired me to create this collective as a representation of my time here. Thus, I felt the name Alumni was the ideal label, in the sense that we are all Alumni of Earth.”
The Alumni brand was created in 2005, initially thrived online and then the shop opened in March of this year.
Q. Alumni graphics are pretty dark and cryptic. What goes into making a new Alumni graphic?
As Jimi says, “Unfortunately, I wasn’t blessed with the gift to draw or paint. I create all the designs mentally and make rough sketches to guide the artist(s) we commission to create the visions I have. I always felt that the greatest darkness lives in the most visible of places. Most of the designs to me don’t represent a negative form of that darkness but instead a love and appreciation for things that some may deem ‘cryptic.’ As we continue to release new collections I think it will become evident that we can embrace the lighter side of life as well – like a teddy bear eating nachos or some shit like that.”
Q. Where is the shop located in Nyack and how long did it take you to get the shop together?
Alumni is located at 112 Main St. in downtown Nyack.
I would say from the day we committed to opening a storefront, to the day doors actually opened, was about a year. It took too fucking long, but I suppose everything pans out the way it’s meant to be. There was a lot bullshit that we had to deal with but, obstacles aside, the end result was thankfully exactly what we envisioned. I have to give a special thanks to Steve Nardone from Tribeca Set & Design, without whom the shop would look like a closet after a drug raid.
Q. When did you first start skateboarding and what kind of impact has it had on your life?
I started skating in 1985 or ’86, I think. I had learned to ride a skateboard much earlier than that but, my first legit setup was around then so I consider that when I started. I begged my mom for the better part of a year to buy me a setup before she finally caved and drove me to a bike shop of all places to buy one.
The impact? Life changing to say the least. I was and continue to be fully possessed. Safe to say that everything I have in life, everything I hold dear, outside of my family, is because of skateboarding in one way or the other. All the places I’ve been, shit I’ve witnessed, friends I have, my taste in music, my appreciation for photography and art, and all of my best memories are because of that skateboard.
Q. I remember you back in the day riding for 5Boro, how did that come about?
How that exactly happened is blurry, so I’ll have to apologize in advance to Steve & Mark if my version is off. I’ll just say that it happened organically. I mean, there was no ‘sponsor me’ tape, contest results or anything like that. We all just went out, skated, chilled, and one day I was asked to rep. Love to 5Boro!
Q. As an original partner in KCDC, owner of Drop In skate park and up until last year working at Homage Brooklyn, you’ve got some deep rooted experience with skate shops. What are you planning to do differently with Alumni?
Simply put, I plan to work smarter not harder. I wish I had an exciting answer for you for this one like ‘I’m going to sell boards and firearms’ or some shit but, honestly, its about staying focused and sticking to the game plan.
Photos via Chris Martin
Q. What can make or break a skate shop in your opinion?
There are a lot of things I could say, but here are some things, in no particular order, that can make or break a shop in my humble opinion.
Location – This one is obvious. The shop can’t be in the middle of nowhere, so find a solid spot.
Brands – If the board wall is whack…you’re whack. If your wall has a bunch of discount decks and bubble gum graphics up on it, then just call it a day. It’s part of the fun, so buy some dope shit…please.
Knowledge – I just mentioned brands, so with that comes the fact that you better know what the fuck you’re talking about when speaking to your customers. Your job is to educate those who need to know what’s up. It’s a big part of the whole skateboard shop experience, and if you don’t know shit about what you’re selling or how to assemble it properly then you look like a damn fool.
Beer – You would think this is a joke, but it’s not. One of the perks of the shop is being able to drink a beer at work. If you can’t drink a beer at the shop with the crew, then what’s the point? This only applies to people that actually drink though, and it’s really for your own sanity’s sake. If you’re not a drinker, then disregard this one and god bless.
Hey, I’m not saying get hammered at work. Drink responsibly when possible.
Loyalty – The shop must support brands that are true to skateboarding. You owe that to all of your customers as well to skateboarding. If you’re loyal to skateboarding, your customers will be loyal to you and that means you can pay your rent.
Playlist – This is so damn important. I suggest you ask once in awhile if your taste in music is shit. Don’t worry, no one has ever had an issue with telling someone their taste in music tight or if it sucks. Believe it or not, three horrible songs in a row can clear a sales floor like a hangover fart can clear a living room. Oh, and if you work with others keep in mind that no one wants to hear a DMX album in its entirety. So, play some decent music and you will make more sales and everyone will thank you. If you’re afraid of confrontation or just cant take constructive criticism, then I offer you Pandora (Fugazi, Failure, Wu Tang, De La Soul, Cro Mags, etc.). Look into it.
Proximity – Show some respect and stay out of another shop’s hood. Plain and simple. If you’re reading this and you moved into another shop’s hood…you are a dick. Good luck getting those good shoe accounts.
Weed socks – Yeah, just buy them, all of them, no matter who makes them (HUF joints are the best), and put them on the rack. These socks alone will make you rent money and possibly some beer money, too.
Skate spots – While this is on the make or break fence, I want to include it because it’s always nice to be able to go slappy a curb or practice some flat near the shop after setting up a freshie, but if you have a legit spot or a park nearby then that keeps the homies close and that’s a good thing. People are more prone to enter a shop for the first time when there is some energy around it.
Community involvement – This is crucial for shops these days. Organize events, support the arts, throw parties, host video premieres or just get out there and skate with the kids. Ya gotta do it. It’s a respect thing if nothing else, you know what I mean? You have to give respect to gain respect, and that’s what skateboarding is all about.
Q. How can local skate shops compete with mega online shops?
The only way to beat Godzilla is to be Mothra. So, be well funded monster like Mothra. If you can’t be Mothra then stay invested in educating, supporting & building your local scene & hopefully the scene will support you enough to keep the doors open.
Q. Nyack is soon to have its very own skate park. How much did you get involved with that project?
As far as my personal involvement, I didn’t do much at all. I was part of a discussion group via Facebook and I would add my 2 cents here and there in regards to the design, but that’s about it.
From what I heard the build is close to a start date. Sarah (@nyackneedsaskatepark) and her crew made all that happen. I know it wasn’t easy so big ups to Sarah. Follow @deckaid, @bobshirt and @nyackneedsaskatepark, and lend your support. They have the Deckaid for Skatistan Skateboard & Skateboard Art show coming up on June 27th at the Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn, so go peep that.
Q. How far away will the skate park be from your shop?
You’ll be able to skate to the park from the shop in about a minute if you’re quick.
Q. What are some goals you have in mind for Alumni in its first few years?
The goal has always been and continues to be to expand the Alumni line, collaborate with friends on the reg, shred on the reg, rage on the reg and just enjoy life in the process. Live, Laugh, Love and all that PMA posi shit while producing some quality products for the people.
Q. Wrapping it up now, what’s your vision of skateboarding in 5 years?
5 years?! Shit, I can’t envision what I’m having for lunch yet! I’ll say that I like where skateboarding is heading. All the small brands that are taking the ‘fuck you’ approach is refreshing & seeing more ‘all around’ skaters that can destroy everything is such a good thing. The continued growth of the community, how diverse the individuals are and how accepting we are to all walks of life just continues to prove how amazing this art form truly is.
Regardless of how blown out skateboarding may get on a ‘corproscum’ level I know that at its core skateboarding will remain true and we, the “hundred percenters”, will adapt to whatever comes because that’s what we do.
I know that doesn’t exactly answer the question but, Cardiel’s Sight Unseen part just came on so I’ll end this here. Thanks Rick!
Q. Any closing shout outs?
LOVE to the Lotz, Turco & Cinique Families.
Love to Cat Wu & Hummer the Pom.
Respect to the one & only Vinny Raffa. Respect to Vinny Ponte, the Ponte & Kayo family.
Much Love & Respect to Steve Rodriguez, Mark Nardelli & the 5Boro crew.
HUGE THANKS to Remy at Volcom, Hobin at BPLA, Victor A. Harris at Mediskation.net, JR at Vanguard Tattoo, Steve Nardone at Tribeca Set & Design, Jose, Michelle & Spencer Portes, The Homage Brooklyn Crew, Dan Mandell & The Bad Idea Skateboard Company, Eugene Kang & Terminal Skateshop, Freddy at Thrasher, Brian at Vans, NHS, Christian at HUF, Devo at Converse, Brad at DLX, Todd Nisbet at Kayo, Tim & Sarah Anderson, Piapatra, Michael Shantz, Keaton Henson, and last but not least NYSKATEBOARDING.COM!