There’s no question hot boutique VII Grand has a big-time draw in part-owner Derrick Williams, whose heroics at the University of Arizona made him one of Tucson’s favorite sons. (Remember those five rapid-fire three-pointers against Duke in the Sweet 16?)
But Williams doesn’t want VII Grand to coast on his legacy. If you’ve paid attention to the blistering heat Williams has worn on-court for the Timberwolves â€“ Galaxy Zoom Rookies, Oxidized Green Jordan XIVs and Bibby Foamposites, to name a few â€“ it’s obvious VII Grand is a vivid representation of his passion for sneaker culture.
“I’ve always collected shoes and things like that,” Williams says, “so I’ve always wanted to have my own store, whether it be clothing or sneakers. Growing up in the L.A. area, there’s all types of stores like that. And then going to school in Tucson and not having any stores like that, I was all for it.”
VII Grand is the brainchild of Mario Escalante, who befriended Williams during his Wildcats days in large part due to their shared love for sneakers. After returning from six years in the Air Force, Escalante pursued his longtime dream of owning a boutique, and Williams decided he wanted in.
[RELATED: The 10 Biggest NBA Sneakerheads On Instagram]
The two put together a solid team, including friend and social media maven Marcus Arman. And they lucked into what Escalante describes as a dream location in a burgeoning downtown area, close to student housing and a light rail system that will bring more students their way, and along the I-10 from Santa Monica to Texas and beyond.
“The location that we’re in, at one point it was a hotel, in 1917 when it was built,” Escalante says. “So it’s a pretty old building. It’s a completely different look than how it looked when we moved in; we had some stuff done, like to expose the brick and refinish the wood floors.
“After we started putting up decorations, I was just looking at it, and I told Derrick, it reminds me of like your bedroom when you’re a kid. We have vintage basketball posters up of Deion Sanders, Jordan and Penny, legends in the footwear industry. And we have a TV, XBox 360 going, clothes everywhere, shoes everywhere.”
Mario and Derrick clearly want to establish that down-home feel, and with Williams working toward his degree at U of A during the past summer while the shop had its grand opening this past spring, you might just encounter the world’s tallest cashier ringing up your retro Grant Hills. (Escalante often jokes with Williams that he’s going to “put him to work” behind the register.)
And yet, though they want to be the hottest name in Tucson, Escalante and Williams aspire for much more. In a short amount of time, VII Grand has secured accounts with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Reebok Classic, Fila, Puma and Asics. They’ve loaded up on streetwear staples The Hundreds and Undefeated. And as they grow their selection, they’re ever mindful of continuing to grow their brand.
“I don’t want to base the whole reputation of the shop off my career and things like that,” Williams says. “I want it to do well, whether I play well or not. I want it to be one of those brands that becomes worldwide known, like Undefeated and Diamond.
“We have the right team, the right design work, the right people working for us. And especially once we get everything we need, all the right colorways and all that, I really feel like it can take off.”
Just ask the Blue Devils: Once Derrick Williams gets going, he’s difficult to slow down. Don’t be surprised if VII Grand follows suit.
What do you think?
Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.