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For 'sneakerheads', rare shoes are the prize

TORONTO - They line up outside in the cold, sometimes waiting the whole night in the hopes of adding a prize piece to their collection, knowing they may still leave empty-handed.

But for sneakerheads, a growing group of shoe obsessives, it's a worthwhile sacrifice for a chance to own limited release footwear.

Joseph Chan, 23, camped outside an east Toronto mall twice in December despite the arctic weather.

"It was cold, but we were lucky enough to be camping out at Scarborough Town Centre, so we had our cars, and would take turns to stay warm," said Chan, who supports his hobby through part-time restaurant work and by selling shoes he no longer wants.

His efforts paid off: he walked away with four pairs of shoes. But with more and more footwear fans competing for rare pairs, it's not unusual to see friction in the line — something retailers are taking steps to prevent.

"In the past we've done lineups, but we've had to move to raffles for limited releases. We don't want people dying over shoes," said Peter Campbell, a manager at Capsule, a sneaker boutique in Toronto's tony Yorkville neighbourhood.

Those who don't have the time or inclination to line up overnight can usually score limited release sneakers online. Resellers typically snap up popular models and put them up for sale once stores are out of stock.

"With resellers, you run the risk of getting a fake pair. Most shoes have basic tells, between the real and fakes, but nowadays they're not so easily spotted," said Chan, who owns more than 120 pairs of shoes.

He said he came close to buying fakes, but grew suspicious when the carbon fibre on the shoe was bendable.

Basketball shoes in particular have been a slam dunk with sneaker enthusiasts.

They've grown more popular over the past two years, partly due to the star appeal of players' signature sneaker lines, said Matt Powell, a sneaker analyst with the market research firm SportsOneSource.

The Air Jordan 5 sold particularly well last year, he said, noting one colour scheme released in November sold more than 500,000 units.

Most re-releases of the Air Jordan brand sell out instantly, though the price of retro editions is set to rise by $10 this year, up to roughly $210.

Resellers, however, can sometimes charge twice the retail price. The Nike LeBron 8 "South Beach" shoe, for example, costs $160 in stores but fetch a reseller more than $1,000.

But despite the steep financial investment, sneakerheads insist their collections are meant to be worn.

Chan, who purchased the Nike shoe for a relatively tame $500, said he wears them every few weeks. But he admits he would never expose them to the sloppy, salt-stained streets of winter.

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