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Rising Stars: Meet Darryl “Woody” Jones II

Today we’d like to introduce you to Darryl Jones II.

Hi Darryl, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
39 Castles Sneakers & Style was birthed out of South St. Louis’ Shaw Neighborhood, 39th Street & Castleman Avenue to be exact. Just as 39th Street and Castleman Avenue is an intersection, 39 Castles Sneakers & Style is the intersection of everything that makes sneaker culture great: Art, Community, Style, and of course, Sneakers! I am a proud St. Louisan, it is in the fiber of every decision I make for the shop and every design I create. At 39 Castles Sneakers & Style, you can buy, sell, trade or consign 100% authentic new and used sneakers. We are located at 1115 Pine Street in Downtown St. Louis. Community is a huge pillar of 39 Castles.

I like to say that we are a community-based sneaker store. We collect shoes for the unhoused community and since opening in September 2019, 39 Castles has donated over 200 pairs of shoes. We give way one new sneaker a month to a random middle schooler or high schooler j for working hard and doing their best in school. We also have worked and partnered with local St. Louis businesses to raise money and fund efforts to improve the livelihoods of the underserved in our community. (And trust we are not stopping any time soon!) This is a community space where people can learn about sneakers and never feel judged. It is a safe space where all are welcome. We have nostalgic video games in our “family area”, a brick patio, art on the wall, and just all-around good vibes.

I started collecting sneakers when I was 14 years old. Sneaker collecting was my escape, it was my outlet- like people collect stamps, coins, or cars. I studied sneakers, the designers, the inspirations, the ins and outs like a scientist who studies chemistry or biology. At that time, sneakers were an “underground” thing. Sneaker collectors were seen as “money wasters”- even by my parents. However, there was familial energy around talking sneakers and campouts & lines to purchase the latest Air Jordan, Nike, or Reebok.

During my early days of collecting, I had no intention of selling the sneakers ever. However, I felt that there was a need for St. Louis to have a proper sneaker store. One that focused on the true nature of sneakers and sneaker culture- the community and conversation of sneakers as well as the love of sneakers. I also felt that there was a lack of people who looked like me as store owners locally as well as nationally in the sneaker community. Sneaker culture (socially) started on the backs of Black people, yet we occupy the space primarily as consumers.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The road to success for 39 Castles Sneakers & Style has definitely not been a smooth one. Opening in September of 2019, we had experienced things as minor as getting internet set up hours before the grand opening to the obvious major situation of the COVID-19 pandemic that devastated the world and small businesses. However, one of the biggest struggles that I experienced) was the lack of access to capital. Between January 2019 and May 2019, I met with bank after bank after bank trying to procure a small business loan. I even did presentations in front of the City’s Economic Development Partnership group. I was attending the small business classes put on by SBA and other institutions with the hopes that I could apply for a loan. I presented facts, figures, data, even social commentary about the multibillion-dollar sneaker resell industry. However, none of them believed that sneakers were a viable business, let alone viable for St. Louis. One group even went as far as to say, “What 12-year-old kid would ever buy a $400 pair of sneakers or a $100 shirt?” I still chuckle about that to this day because most of the consumers in this space are between the ages of 12-21 years of age.

I started my business with no credit, no loans, and only money saved through income tax refunds and my place of employment. My products were all of my own collection. I am thankful to have a supportive family and friend group that provided emotional and financial support during the early stages of the business. On one end, this was very difficult to deal with and still is. However, it was a blessing because, during the pandemic, I did not have the burden of business debt.

Rough patches are going to happen in business. But that is why we live by the 39 Castles Sneakers & Style’s abbreviated slogan, which is “Your Throne Awaits.” We want people to believe that there is always something more out there for them. Whether your life is going great or is struggling, always remember you have something better that is always on the horizon. [Full Slogan: “Kicks. Style. Glory. Your Throne Awaits.”]

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
39 Castles Sneakers & Style is most known for its wide array of sneakers. We not only have the hype new releases, but we also carry sneakers that customers and clients have never seen before or have forgotten. I do not consider myself a sneaker reseller by any means. I am a Sneaker Curator. I treasure hunt for rare and forgotten sneakers that tell the story of the multi-decade old sneaker culture.

It was instilled in me at five years old by my parents and local leaders that community, and more specifically the St. Louis Community, is important. That is why 39 Castles has within its fiber that main principle, that community comes first. 39 Castles operates to not only bridge and unite gaps in St. Louis through sneakers but to bridge and unite our community with opportunity. I truly believe sneakers are one of the best conduits to connect our youth to STEAM careers and experiences. Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math can be seen throughout sneaker culture and sneakers themselves.

I use my experiences in community building, my in-depth knowledge of sneakers, my ability to network, and my focus on providing new access points to experiences in order to make spaces more equitable and inclusive for people of color.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
The quality/characteristic that has been most important to my success so far is my resilience. It was very hard getting denied time after time after time for loans. It really made me question the vision and gift that was 39 Castles. Surviving the pandemic in downtown St. Louis, an area built on foot traffic from local office buildings, Sporting Events, Conferences, and tourism, also took tremendous resilience. My resilience is only thanks to God. My parents instilled a strong prayer life in me as a child, and trust prayer definitely strengthens my ability to be resilient and steadfast through some very trying times financially as 39 Castles continues to grow in its success.

Contact Info:

  • Email: 39castlesstl@gmail.com
  • Website: 39castles.com
  • Instagram: @39castles


Image Credits

Levon Davis, Davis Digital Content Briana Bender, B. Alexandria Consulting, LLC

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1 Comment

  1. Finnos Coleman

    August 6, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Reading about your business and commitment to community along with your undefeatable attitude/philosophy got me completely HYPED!

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