Grinding it out at Capitol Hill’s 35th North Skateshop

Tony Croghan

Tony Croghan has run 35th North at the corner of Pike and 11th since 2003. It’s a Capitol Hill institution and one of the only such shops in the city, hub for a generation-spanning pursuit that’s both sport and art. As the world of skateboarding prepares for its international debut in the Olympics in 2020, Croghan stays focused on the art and community it inspires.

“I think about a kid right now in middle school, an individual who might be artistic, who’s into music, but also likes to do activities and might be coordinated and athletic; that’s the skateboarder,” Croghan said. “If that kid is ever turned off by skating—‘That looks like a sport to me, I don’t wanna do it’—that would be a bad spot to be in.”

The store, which originally opened in the U District in 2001, was named in homage of the 35th Ave Skate Shop in Federal Way that’s been around since 1977. Croghan reps the distinct history and identity of the local skate scene, which has spawned recent pros like Simon Bannerot and Griffin Gass and made Garfield High School a world famous skate spot featured on magazine covers.

“The roads are rough, the aesthetic is different,” he says, “Not everything is perfect here like it is in California.” Additionally the abundance of skateparks (though there are no dedicated city skate facilities on Capitol Hill), plus the presence of internationally acclaimed park design-build firm Grindline, has turned out a generation of highly skilled shredders. “The kids that come out of this scene can skate everything,” he says, “You put any object in front of them and they can skate it.”

Last year the shop’s connection to renegade street culture got them embroiled in trouble with the city over an unauthorized concrete bowl constructed on Green Lake’s Duck Island as part of a national DIY park-building contest. Although 35th North didn’t know about the illicit construction project until it was completed, Croghan said, as local administrator of the contest they ended up saddled with the blame.

In February the city levied a $30,000 settlement. Croghan says the community, from skate companies to individuals, has stepped up to help with the expense.

“We’re gonna be perfectly fine. We were just the pockets they could connect to it. If you put yourself out as someone who’s a face of the skateboard community and you can be a mediator, you might as well,” he said. “In the end it was kind of a stupid prank with a giant overreaction. It goes into the lore of Seattle skateboarding — some kids will be at Green Lake 20 years from now and say, ‘Did you know there was a bowl on that island one time?’”

With a payment schedule in place for the settlement, Croghan has moved on from the episode. He is bemused at 35th North’s continued survival in the midst of a rapidly changing neighborhood. He credits the shop’s longevity to luck, a good landlord, and a determination to keep plugging away at his job of 18 years. “I would go down with the ship—there’s no, ‘Oh, I’m not making enough money, let’s close.’ If you love something you get used to it and keep it going no matter what.”

Skateboards are the best-selling item at 35th North but they also carry a wide array of shoes and clothes from tiny independent companies and established manufacturers like Nike. Many brands have exclusive retail arrangements with indie skate shops like 35th North. “The corporations are trying their best to keep stores like this healthy and they look for ways to do it—they’re definitely aware there could be a blowback. If there was no skate shop in Seattle the only people telling the story of skateboarding are Zumiez and Vans stores, and that’s not healthy for the industry. For a kid who is excited and wants to get into a whole subculture and keep that subculture moving, you’ve got keep the roots of the tree watered.”

From its spot at the center of Pike/Pine, 35th North’s selection of shirts, shoes, hoodies, and hats draw walk-in business from non-skaters as well. Croghan keeps a close eye on street culture as well as the industry that’s grown out of it, often taking a chance on upstart indie apparel companies with striking designs. “I consume way too much skateboarding and it drives me crazy. Instagram, video, magazines, industry events, talking to owners, talking to companies — I could talk your ear off.”

35th North is located at 1100 E Pike. You can learn more at 35thnorth.com.

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