Johnson City’s Joey Booth opened his first skateboard shop back in 1990, just after a dead period for the sport. Twenty-three years later, he’s as happy as ever running his Mojo Skateshop on Walnut Street.
Just like the terrain, there are uphills and downhills with skateboarding, and Booth, 46, has weathered the storm, always giving the local skateboarding community quality products while staying true to the style.
He’s a wealth of information on the sport’s subculture. He can give you a history lesson of the sport, how skateboarding has changed over time, tell you where a lot of the ever-changing trends came from, how long they lasted, why they lasted or died out, and what you can expect next.
Booth and his wife, Kimberly, a nurse, have had a few restaurants and coffee shops in the area, but took advantage of a somewhat established skateboarding scene to give the kids what they want.
With somewhat of a conservative surrounding area, Booth said through him was the only way to get certain skateboard and grunge items in the 1990s. He was your one-stop shop if you were looking for skateboards and accessories, rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts, hair dye, nose rings, or Dr. Martin boots. He wasn’t into selling the knock-off stuff to his customers, so, as was his policy on the products he carried, he got the real deal. The hair dye was the famous Manic Panic Tish & Snooky hair dye from New York City, and the Dr. Martin boots came all the way from England.
The first skateboard company he carried was a then-small company called Alien Workshop, which was operated by a skater named Rob Dydrek. Booth would make phone orders with Dydrek on the other end. Dydrek’s stock has done well since, with Alien Workshop growing into one of the most popular skateboard brands on the planet, and having starred in three MTV television programs, including “Rob and Big,” “Rob Dydrek’s Fantasy Factory,” and “Ridiculousness.”
A big change that hit the sport was the rising popularity of longboarding. Booth said he picked them up after some East Tennessee State Univeristy medical students recommended he do so. Since then, Booth has been constantly doing his research, only bringing in the very best and often innovative longboards and parts. He’s especially proud of one of the wheel companies he carries, that have a waiting list for potential vendors, and only does business with small skate stores.
Another company he carries ditches the wooden board idea altogether, and has boards made of recycled beer cans.
Twenty-three years after opening, the policy hasn’t changed for Booth. He still boasts his demand for high-quality products from the companies he sells in his store, and how he interacts with the people who come in his store. Given the skateboarding culture, Booth likes the hangout feel of his shop, and that reflects in how he talks with customers.
Wendy Pierce brought her kids, 9-year-old James and 11-year-old Alex, into the store to check things out. She said she’s always appreciated the way Booth is respectful and cool with the kids, and loves supporting the local businesses. With skateboarding currently riding a commercialized high, Booth knows skateboards can be purchased at any big box store or department store out there, but they can’t match his level of knowledge, passion or customer service.
Another parent-friendly focus of Booth’s is his recommendation of proper safety equipment for the skaters who come in his store.
Ben Ordway, 15, who lives just a few blocks away from the store in the Tree Streets, was in looking at a new board. He and Booth worked out a layaway plan that he would not be able to find in those department stores. Booth said he checks with parents first before offering that option and offers 30 days, but joked that many of the kids want their stuff so badly that they come back to get it just a few days after.
After Ordway left, Booth said he’d guess that Ordway would mow a couple of extra lawns to finalize his transaction as quickly as possible.
Booth is proud to say he’s known many of his customers since they were coming in at an early age, and many of the younger skaters can thank him, among others, for the area’s only skate park. Almost 15 years ago, Booth was on the committee to bring in a skate park at Science Hill, and feels proud that he was able to be a small part of the project to bring in a place for skateboarders. He said in the 1980s, surprisingly, Johnson City was kind of a mecca for skateboarding, until the sport went through another dead period when insurance liability became an issue with skating venues.
It’s the 12-16 year-old kids who Booth said impress him most around Johnson City. He said the talent level of skateboarders is top-notch, despite not having quite the scene and popularity neighboring cities Asheville and Knoxville have.
Producing his own Mojo skateboards and t-shirts has always been a fun endeavour for Booth. Since he got into the business, he’s designed his own stuff, creating new logos when he sees fit. After a customer, Ben Elliott, bugged him enough times about helping him create a new design, Booth gave in and let the Science Hill senior come up with a new design.
Elliott said he’s moved away from skateboarding, but enjoyed all the time he and his friends spent hanging out at the store after school.
“I practically lived in there from 3-5 p.m. with friends for a while,” Elliott said. “Joey’s a fantastic guy who really looks out for the community.”