For skateboard enthusiasts in the Binghamton area, an invaluable resource can be found in the most unexpected of places: a local barbershop.
Broome County community member Tom Dewing is running a pop-up skate shop based in Jake’s N.Y. Headquarters Barbershop, where he works as a barber. The skate shop, called Free Society Skate Shop, carries everything a skater might need, from T-shirts, shoes, hats and stickers to skateboard parts like trucks, wheels, decks and hardware.
A longtime skater, Dewing grew up in Whitney Point, a town about 20 minutes north of the city of Binghamton. Before opening Free Society, he co-owned HCS Skatepark in Vestal. One of his friends started HCS at 15 years old as an option for locals and Binghamton University students who would rather support a small, skater-operated business than a big corporation like Zumiez. Dewing’s goal for Free Society is similar, and he hopes to provide skaters with merchandise they might not be able to find in a shopping mall.
“I wanted to give something back to skateboarding because I’ve been doing it for about 20 years and it’s been great,” he said.
Dewing helped out with HCS from its inception and started getting more involved 3 1/2 years ago when he moved back to Binghamton after living in Pittsburgh for about 10 years. HCS was successful, but the owners eventually closed it to move on to different careers. The shop closed early in the summer of 2016.
The idea for Free Society came to Dewing the day HCS closed. He liked the idea of a pop-up shop because he thought it would be more flexible, more open and easier to maintain than a full-sized store, which requires more time and is a greater financial risk. After getting approval from his boss at the barbershop, he bought some of the leftover inventory from HCS and brought it to the shop.
Free Society stocks mostly small East Coast brands like Scumco & Sons, Municipal Skateboards and Upstate Skateboards. The shop also carries items from Dewing’s own brand, The Barren Company, which he started a year and a half ago with Vestal community member Matt Vargason and BU alumnus Ben Stone, ‘12. The brand is inspired by the economic downfall of the Binghamton area over the last 40 years and how it has affected the physical landscape. According to Dewing, this change has been especially obvious to the skate community because the activity relies so much on the space skaters have to practice in.
“There’s a public skatepark and a lot of people go there, but a lot of kids just skate in the streets, and if you’re skating Downtown you’re going to see a lot of abandoned buildings,” he said.
The founders of Barren have decided to take an optimistic approach to what they’ve been seeing in the Triple Cities area. The company’s decks and apparel feature artistic photos of run-down buildings and overgrown woods alongside compass rose graphics and phrases like “explore your surroundings.”
“Instead of having a bleak look, we say you should go out and explore and rise out of the barren wasteland,” Dewing said.
Dewing hopes that Free Society will not only provide skaters with more local options, but will also aid in bringing people together. When he worked at HCS, the shop held events where companies whose items they carried would send them merchandise to give away for free. Dewing believes events like this give people an incentive to come together and help foster a close community among skaters in the greater Binghamton area.
“Every couple of months we could all get together and kids would be able to showcase their skills,” he said.
He hopes to similarly use the pop-up shop as a social hub and a place for community outreach. For this spring, he’s planning an event through the shop that will allow young skaters from low-income families to bring in their old boards and trade them in for new ones.
While pop-up shops usually have cutoff dates, Dewing says Free Society will be open for as long as he can keep it running. He gets enough business that he’s had to replenish his stock a few times, as evidenced by the once-full deck rack in the shop that’s now starting to dwindle. Dewing only advertises through social media and word of mouth, but he says he’s still able to get people coming in because the area’s skate community is so reliable and close-knit.
“The community in Binghamton has been going on forever, there’s people who skate who started in the ’80s,” he said. “There’s always more people coming in and out of it though, and it never gets stale.”
Free Society Skate Shop is open Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The shop is located in the back of Jake’s N.Y. Headquarters at 142 Court St.