Tucked away in a strip of samey brown buildings on East 3rd Street sits Brush Alley Skateshop. Its large windows, adorned by vintage skateboards and vividly colored signs, help it stand out the way a flaming Thrasher t-shirt stands out in a crowd.
Inside, a television mounted in a back corner perpetually plays skate videos. Across from this, a humble display case sits with wheels, screws and trucks strewn across its surface. Inside it, all sorts of skateboard parts are visible. From colored screws to custom trucks, the display holds enough unique and boisterous designs to make even the most discerning skateboarder drool.
Often times, looking out the store’s side window, you can find Jennings Harper, Brush Alley’s founder, skateboarding in the sun. Regularly he’ll be accompanied by others who have come to skate in the alley after which the shop is named. With his phone in hand, Harper is always looking for a cool trick to film. When the skaters inevitably say goodbye for the day, Harper enthusiastically struts back into his shop, changes into his newest pair of shoes and sits behind the display case waiting for the next customer to come.
Growing up in the damaged and fragmented Flint of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, Harper found himself gravitating toward the city’s skateboarding scene. During this time, he frequented skate shops around Michigan and the country, further immersing himself in the culture he loved.
With every shop he visited, some better than others, a blueprint started forming in Harper’s head for the perfect skateshop. While some stores, like Zumiez, cater to sports outside of just skateboarding, Harper wanted something more classic. A skateboarding traditionalist at heart, his goal was to open a shop by and for skateboarders.
“ … A skateboard shop is supposed to be ran by somebody who skateboards,” said Harper. “ … And we don’t carry anything here but skateboards. There’s no scooters, no rollerblades, no bikes, which a lot of other, you know, stores will have as well … we are only strictly 100 percent skateboard.”
Despite his traditionalist ways, Harper does bend his rules by selling a fair share of shirts, pants, hats and shoes.
“ … Definitely our gear is different than anything you can find, you know, around really,” said Harper. “We get a lot of stuff that stores at the mall can’t get … we get shoes that nobody else can get either, so that’s definitely a plus.”
Harper believes that Brush Alley has exposed and legitimized skateboarding to a wider audience in Flint, helping bring people together from various walks of life.
“ … We definitely brought a lot of kids together and we got, like, a meeting point. It’s somewhere where can kids can come here and meet other skaters … we skate outside almost every single day … we’re definitely getting it going … we got a lot of people back into it that used to skate,” said Harper.
The shop has even teamed up with the city to form a committee, Flint Sk810, motivated to further skateboarding in Flint by working with the community to plan events and projects. Possibly Brush Alley’s most ambitious project to date is their plan to build a new skatepark.
While nothing is for sure yet, he mentioned the potential for funding provided by the Tony Hawk Foundation. Harper hopes the new skatepark will become a reality within a year. The existing one, located in the Swartz Creek Golf Course, has been neglected and vandalized over the years, leaving it below skateboarding standards.
“ … We have our designer picked out, but we’re just still trying to get all our funding all in place,” said Harper. “ … we’re the last, like, real city here in Michigan that doesn’t have one [skatepark]. A concrete, permanent, you know, modern skatepark that doesn’t need maintenance … every town should have one, or every town already has one, so we should have one.”
The Brush Alley Skateshop is currently turning the tide in the Flint skateboarding scene, for the first time providing old and new skaters a space to practice their craft, hang out, learn tricks and upgrade their setup in a genuine skateshop. With the promising hope of a new skatepark, as well as its involvement with the Flint Sk810 committee, Brush Alley is truly the face of Flint’s skateboarding revival.
This piece has been edited since the time of its original posting for clarity.