Terminal skate shop has been holding down Washington Heights for years now and it’s not your typical shop. It has everything you need except for sneakers but unlike all the other shops it’s run out of an apartment. Owner Eugene Kang considers the shop open if he’s awake or nearby, just give him a call. He’ll even deliver your board to the spot in some cases. We had the chance to chat with Eugene and his responses are some of the best we’ve ever posted in an interview. Read what Eugene had to say below.
NYSB: Where did you grow up and when did you first start skating?
EK: I was born in Seoul, Korea, moved to Brooklyn when I was 5 years old, then up to Palisades, NY when I was 10 and started skating after I saw “Back to the Future”. I remember begging my mom for a board for days after I saw it; she got me a $30 Valterra deck from Toys R Us then a real set up once I saved up half the money which convinced her I was actually into it. I didn’t know much about skating until I started skating in Nyack, NY, that’s where I met a bunch of skaters for the first time, namely JP Lotz (Alumni and Homage). He was the older dude who could actually do tricks beyond cruising, tic-tacs and acid drops, the dude that everyone looked up to. After that I was completely hooked and 25+ years later, I still link up with JP to skate at least once a week, its pretty rad when you think about it.
NYSB: How did Terminal come about, who was involved?
EK: Terminal was a few boards in the corner of my living room for a handful of my close friends. It wasn’t Terminal until all these guys started skating in the neighborhood and I found out that they were getting raped by the bike shops around here. I knew I could do something to hook the guys up so I called in a few favors (Steve Rodriguez at 5boro and my childhood homie Danny Supa) to get it started then opened it up to the public. After a few months, I set it up as a real business so I could get more accounts, organized a few comps in the neighborhood and it snowballed from there. It started with a dozen boards on my wall and now it’s grown to what it is today. Mind you, none of this would’ve been possible if it wasn’t for the skaters that have come to check me all these years, without them there would be no Terminal.
NYSB: What’s behind the name Terminal?
EK: The terminal (the terms) is the George Washington bridge bus terminal on Fort Washington Ave. between 178th and 179th street and it’s been the meet up spot for ages. You can skate there by yourself at 2am in the morning and somehow or another, someone will almost always show up to skate with you. It’s just some curbs, flat and a sidewalk manny pad but you can always find some junk to set up and shred. Anyway, I’ve lived here for 16+ years and we’ve all been skating there forever so it just made sense to call it “Terminal” and tie the spot and the shop together.
NYSB: Tell us a little about where the shop is and when it’s open for business.
EK: Terminal is located at 235 Wadsworth Ave. Apt 5-A, on the southeast corner of 185th on Wadsworth Ave. and it’s still in my living room to this day. People tend to have low expectations when they come for the first time because it’s in my apartment but they’re always surprised when I open the door and they see all the stuff I have inside.
I run it out of my crib so I don’t have traditional store hours, it’s more or less by appointment or you catch me at home. I skate just like everyone else so I’m out of the house on nice days; people just hit me on my cell, let me know when they want to come by and that’s pretty much it. The cool part about it is if you snap your board at 1am and need a new one, I got you. If you want to cop something at 6am before heading to work/school, I got you. If I’m headed to a park or a skate spot by you, I’ll bring it to you. If I’m up and I’m around, I’m pretty much open. I’ve had people come by as late as 4am to cop a board and I’m totally fine with it; I think it’s kind of rad that some skate rat is getting their gnar on that late at night.
NYSB: I see you’ve been skating the Hamilton Bridge park a lot lately, how far is it from your shop?
EK: The Highbridge skate park is located on the southeast corner of 181st and Amsterdam Ave. It’s kind of a pain to find if you’ve never been there but just follow the sidewalk on the right-side of the bridge, down the stairs, through the tunnel, don’t deviate from the path and it’ll take you straight there. It’s only a few blocks from me, maybe a 5 minute skate so I’m there all the time. It’s broken up into 2 sections, cement and metal on one side, brick and granite on the other so there’s a little bit of something for everyone. I’ve waited over a decade for this park to get built so I’m super psyched on it as well as everyone that grew up skating here. It’s not perfect by any means but I always tell people, if you found any of this stuff in the streets it would be the dopest spot ever! The other cool thing about it is a lot of skaters throughout the city are finding their way up here now, be it famous pros or regular joes, its just cool seeing dudes shredding and getting everyone hyped.
NYSB: What was your favorite shop of all time in New York (before Terminal)?
EK: I can’t really say I had a favorite shop growing up, they were really few and far between, most of them were bike shops so it was either that or mail-order. I will say Autumn was always pretty cool when it was around. I remember going in there to cop some product, saw they had a copy of Public Domain on the shelf and of course, I bought it instantly! I was so hyped on it that I totally forgot all the other stuff I bought in the shop and skated off. I don’t remember the dudes name but he chased me down 4 or 5 blocks and brought me all the stuff I left, that was pretty cool of him, thanks again my dude!
Right now though, I’d say Homage and Labor. Homage is killing it in Brooklyn and helping out a lot of the homies, I know almost everyone who works there, rides for them and they’re all down and super cool. And I’d say Labor because James is holding it down in the LES and supports a lot of the smaller brands out there, you have to respect that.
NYSB: Tell us a little about your selection of product, what do you guys carry?
EK: I prefer to support the smaller brands with smaller teams when it comes to boards companies like 5boro, Shut, Blvd, Traffic, Stereo, Slave and local brands like Sleep, Bad Idea and pro models of the homies goes without saying. That’s not to say I don’t carry bigger brands but for the most part, I don’t really carry brands who have millionaires on their payrolls. I know they go out to film sick parts and they break themselves to get their name out there but there comes a time when a person has more money than they have purpose for, you know? I know a lot of pros work full time jobs and skate on the side to make ends meet and those are the guys that need support the most.
Otherwise, I carry a good variety of hardgoods and softgoods, unfortunately no shoes since I don’t really have the storage space for it but I hope to start carrying shoes soon, that’s in the works among other things. All boards are $50 with grip. Trucks (indy, thunder, venture, ace) start at $36 and up. Wheels (bones, autobahn, ricta, spitfire, OJII) start at $26 and up.
NYSB: Do you have any flow or team riders?
EK: I don’t have any flow or team riders but I’ve introduced a few people to the right people. I’m not one to really take credit for stuff like that since it’s really their skill and dedication that got them on and kept them on whatever company they’re riding for.
At some point in the not so distant future, I would love to have a team and help nurture them and skateboarding in that regard but right now, I don’t make enough money to do much for anyone let alone myself. I had to get a roommate to help with the rent and make just enough to cover pay my bills and buy groceries. If you’ve been here or seen me around, you know I’m not ballin in anyway; no car, no bike, no flat screen TV, no xbox, no expensive shoes/clothes, no super dope anything. My last expensive non-essential purchase was a $50 ipod shuffle about 3 years ago and it took my friend Dave over a year to convince me to buy one. Sometimes I rock new stuff (usually because someone was kind enough to bless me) but for the most part I’m poor and core like most of the guys out there; I rock the same old clothes, shoes that I got on sale and skate all my boards down. At best you might catch me eating a dollar slice and drinking a tan can of Coors, that’s how I ball.
That said, getting sponsored and being pro isn’t really what skateboarding is about. It’s not just about getting a board with your name on it or a check from a sponsor, that stuff can end with a serious injury (or some extreme level of kookiness) but with all the media flashing money in everyone’s face, I feel people have lost sight of that. Skateboarding is more about meeting new people and exposing yourself to things that you’d never experience otherwise. It’s about chillin together, building bonds and lifelong friendships, sharing life experiences with one another through a common interest; everything from scooping girls, hitting up spots, partying, go out on late night filming missions, getting into some mischief, running from cops/security and all that other good stuff. It’s about having fun with your homies, homies that you’ll keep for the rest of your life.
For me, I feel it’s more important that everyone is successful throughout the course of their lives, not just in skateboarding. Most of the guys who have been coming here have graduated or graduating from high school, they’re going to or in college, most of them have jobs and they still come out to skate! That right there gets me more stoked that any trick they’ve ever landed, you know what I mean? On or off the board, I want the best for everyone, I don’t want to see anyone struggling or homeless, I want them to do what they love and be successful at it.
NYSB: Tell us a little about Washington Heights, what are some of your favorite spots on and off the board?
EK: Washington Heights is great as it’s an escape from downtown and everything that comes with it. There are tons of parks and places to go all over; Inwood is just north of here, New Jersey is on one side, the Bronx on the other with new spots and businesses popping up all the time. I know people have been afraid of coming up here in the past but things have changed and the attitude of the community has changed for the better in the past decade or so. It used to be super rough up here back in the days, you’d get robbed for your shoes, coat, walkman, you name it they’d try to take it but nowadays, most of the violent crime has died down and the natives have mellowed out.
One of my favorite spots to skate is obviously the terminal; it’s lit at night, it’s covered when it rains and the cops are pretty chill with us being there as long as we’re respectful and using out heads. Then there was J. Hood Wright Park, that used to our little TF but some new parks dept. coordinator took over a few years ago and threw us and all our obstacles out. At one point they’re we’re like 40 kids coming to skate there every day, why would you want to put a stop to that? They didn’t have any type of program that drew that many people there on the daily. They came up with some lame excuse about lawsuits and how we’re damaging the ground with our wheels and whatnot, yeah whatever.
As far as food, there’s no shortage of Spanish spots with big portions and that’s easy on your wallet. I’ve lived here a long time so I know all the cheap places to eat. I tend to cook at home most of the time (it’s my other passion) since I don’t have money to eat out like that but every once in a while I’ll get some pollo guisado (stewed chicken) with rice and beans; I could probably eat that every damn day and never get tired of it. The neighborhood is getting gentrified so there are a lot of new restaurants opening up…which I get to try when the woman offers to pay, haha!
NYSB: We’ve heard of some new shops opening up in Washington Heights, why should kids shop at Terminal?
EK: With the new park being there, a couple of people have moved in trying to cash in on skateboarding, its whack.
One is a bike/barber/skate shop; too bad no one involved actually skates. All they’ve done is flooded the park with more bikes and you know how much we all love those bikes! They just don’t get it; just because you sell skateboards doesn’t make you a skateboarder, it makes you a wannabe trying to be down with something that the rest of us live, eat and breath. They don’t give a crap about skateboarding and its no secret that the dude in there is 100% about the money. It’s been an on-going joke since before they even opened, the locals would go to Zumiez before going in there. Simply put, if you don’t skateboard, you have no business in skateboarding; I’m sure they’ll be hustling rollerblades and scooters sooner than later.
The other one is couple of guys from the Bronx but to their credit they actually skate. The thing that’s messed up is I’ve skate with those guys, they’ve bought things from me in the past and I’ve run into them throughout the city for years but they didn’t even have the courtesy or respect to contact me prior, you know what I mean? They know I’ve been living here and keeping everyone skating in Washington Heights for mad long so why post up around me? I actually approached one of them at the park recently and asked,
“Whats this I hear about you trying to open up a shop around me?, why not open a shop where you live?, where you skate and rep your hood?, why are you stepping on my toes?”
His reply was, “How are we stepping on your toes?”
He didn’t even get it, it went straight over his head, mind you they’re like 4 blocks from me so how exactly is that not stepping on my toes? They’re both kind of young and don’t realize that skateboarding is territorial in many ways; you don’t try to move in and set up shop where someone has been holding it down for years. Back in the days someone would’ve throw a Molotov cocktail through the window and torched the place, that’s some pitchforks and nooses type of offense, you know? Its kind of unwritten but well known rule in skateboarding that you don’t do that kind of thing but they’re too oblivious to even realize it.
Like most, they’re just blinded by dollar signs, trying to floss, be down with the scene, look fly and cash in on skating but they’re in for a rude awakening when they realize there’s no real money in owning a skate shop. People do it because they love it and hope they can break even, and if they’re lucky they’ll make some pocket money. Maybe their hearts are in the right place and as they say home is where the heart is but this isn’t your home so best of luck to you.
Why should people shop here? This part of the question is kind of weird for me because this wasn’t something I started with any intention of making money; it was really to keep everyone around me skating. There are guys I’ve skated with for years that don’t know I do this because I don’t go around talking about it. People have found out through word of mouth, friends of friends, even if someone directly asks me about I’ll go as far as to deny it sometimes. I don’t go around telling people to come support Terminal because when I’m skating, I’m just there to skate, not to pimp my shop and make money. This interview is about the only self-promotion I’ve really ever done and it’s something you guys (NYSB) wanted to do for me which I greatly appreciate.
Anyway, I don’t expect everyone to come check me, I never have. I know I can’t carry everything, I realize people want what they want and if I don’t have it, I’ll direct them to a shop that does. I don’t play favorites, I treat everyone the same and always keep it a hundred with everyone, both in business and in life. And if you’ve been here before, you know I’m the world’s worst salesmen; I’m more likely to talk you out of buying something and saving your money than talking you into buying something that you don’t really need it. I’m a skater just like you’re a skater, I’ll bleed and sweat alongside you, I’ll cheer you on when you land and I’ll help you up when you fall and in the end, that’s what matters, that’s what it’s all about. Come check me or don’t, just stay skating and have fun with your friends.
NYSB: Any big plans for the shop this year?
EK: Everyone from downtown to uptown, industry heads, shop owners and skate homies have been pushing for me to open a shop here for the longest time and with all these infiltrators moving in, I feel like I have no choice. I know I have the support of the skate community far and wide but my biggest concern is raising prices. Right now, I’m charging 1980’s prices up in this piece and I really dislike the fact that I have to open up a street location and raise prices just to get rid of these outsiders. This is what I’ve been doing to make ends meet, this is how I’ve been surviving for all these years and I feel like these guys (all from other neighborhoods) are messing with my livelihood so I’m taking it personally. As one of them said, “business is business, leave that personal stuff at home”, so I’m doing exactly that, leaving my personal stuff where it should be, at home, in my hood, in Washington Heights.
NYSB: Would you like to say anything to skaters in Washington Heights or in New York in general?
EK: Thanks to all the skaters that have supported Terminal (along with every other shop out there) become what it is today and what it can be tomorrow. Each of you guys has helped in more ways than you know and it’s not just about paying bills. It’s about seeing each of you guys growing up, doing well for yourselves and continuing to skate for the love it just like me; that in itself means more than any amount money. I couldn’t have done any of this if it wasn’t for you guys and I hope each of you keep skating and keep the friendships you’ve built for years to come.
To the rest of New York and the planet, support any/all of your local businesses; be it a skate shop, a coffee shop, a local grocery store, etc. They are a part of the community in which you live and work; they are people with names and faces. It may be a bit more expensive, it may be a bit inconvenient but shop small and help the little guys feed their families and keep their lights on. People always complain about the 1% having it all but its the 99% that are giving them all their money. Stop making rich people richer and spread the wealth among the people who really need it and will genuinely appreciate it.
That said, ride it til the wheels fall off!
Interview by Rick Sulz
Photos by Peter Pabón