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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

After 2 Burglaries In 2 Weeks, Flee Club Sneaker Shop Owners Are Out $110,000 — And Ready To Leave Chicago

Flee Club's owners said the shop was supposed to be their dream store — but they're discouraged after burglars broke in again Friday.

Left: Burglars busted open a window to get into Flee Club on Friday morning. Right: Owners Darris "Gem Shoe" Kelly and Sabrian "Boo" Sledge said they're worried they might have to move out of Chicago.
Provided and Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
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TRI-TAYLOR — Two friends opened their dream sneaker shop on the Near West Side — but they’re considering moving it out of Chicago after being burglarized for the second time in two weeks.

The most recent burglary happened 6 a.m. Friday at Flee Club, 2221 W. Taylor St., according to the owners and police. Five people busted a window to get inside, then made off with designer jeans, jackets and a rare New Beginnings two-pack of Jordan 1 sneakers, co-owner Darris “Gem Shoe” Kelly said. The items were worth about $70,000, Kelly said.

No one has been arrested and detectives are investigating.

A previous burglary occurred March 18. In that case, people broke in and stole $40,000 worth of shoes and clothing. The shop has been burglarized three times before these recent break-ins, Kelly said.

The owners had to eat the loss from the March break-in because they’ve struggled to get insurance due to the recurring burglaries, Kelly said. They started an online fundraiser in hopes of recuperating some of the losses, but the persistent burglaries are a “real kick in the head” for the Flee Club team, Kelly said.

“We want to probably get out this spot, man. They took everything we got to give,” said co-owner Darris “Gem Shoe” Kelly. “Unless you want to spend all your money on security, overnight security, it’s not really worth it in Chicago.

Kelly said he hopes his new insurance will cover some of the losses from Friday’s break-in.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m just tired of this,” Kelly said.

It’s been hard on morale for Kelly and co-owner Sabrian “Boo” Sledge, childhood friends who started the business out of a Maywood home. They’ve tried to give back to the area with backpack giveaways, toy donations at Christmas and by sponsoring sports teams.

“I just wish people knew our story,” Kelly said. “We went from out the house to in the alley to Madison to Western — and we’re finally here. This the best thing we had.”

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Darris “Gem Shoe” Kelly (left) and Sabrian “Boo” Sledge, childhood friends and co-owners of Flee Club at 2221 W. Taylor St.

Kelly and Sledge’s business is known for high-end sneakers and designer streetwear — and for catering to celebrities, having sold to Chicago Bulls Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr., as well as rappers Fabulous and Polo G.

The owners annually spend “somewhere in the six figures” on security, using armed guards, locks, sirens and burglar bars, they said. They moved to Taylor Street because they hoped it’d be safer after their original location by the United Center was also burglarized, Kelly said.

Sledge said nobody has been charged with the burglaries.

“This could be Fort Knox, and they’ll just run a car in,” Sledge said after last month’s burglary.

Kelly said he regularly tracks down limited-release sneakers and clothing, sending people out of state to buy them for the shop. The labor and the upfront purchasing costs are heavy for a small business without a big bank account or partnerships with luxury brands, Kelly said. 

“I just found out that people are going to target me,” Kelly said. “They’re going to target me wherever I go in this city because I have the hottest items.” 

Flee Club hosted basketball star LaVar Ball‘s Big Baller Brand pop-up in November. Sledge and Kelly gave Ball a tour of their inventory room, showing him the work they “built from out the house,” Sledge said. Ball told Sledge he was proud to see Black men building their own brand.

Kelly said he’s disappointed he may have to move on from his dream store.

“You see all that you put into it,” Kelly said. “Everything that you had.”

Credit: Michael Hicks Jr./Provided
Sabrian Sledge shows LaVar Ball the Flee Club’s sneaker inventory. Sledge started the business eight years ago out of his friend’s Maywood home.

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