Antonio Davis, like so many teens, spent the early weeks of the pandemic unsure of what to do with himself. Then he switched off the television and started a business.
Laurise Johnson did the math. As an education specialist at an East Side after-school program, she’s all about the math.
Binge-watching 16 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” adds up to about 60 days of television, Johnson discovered. Quite a feat, even for a bored teenager.
Johnson suppressed the urge to laugh a little. If it was true – and Antonio Davis really had devoted that much of this spring’s COVID-19 shutdown to his favorite show – then Antonio’s mom, Misha McNeil, was right: Something had to give.
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“This has been hard on a lot of kids,” McNeil said. “I think he was just kind of over it at that point.”
McNeil reached out to Johnson, whom knew Antonio well from their time together at Directions for Youth and Families, where the teen had served as a counselor-in-training. He was Johnson’s “right-hand man” until the pandemic shuttered buildings and shoved students’ worlds online.
“What can we do?” McNeil asked Johnson in a text.
Maybe, Johnson thought, this was the time for Antonio, a “sneaker head” with both flair and skill, to get serious.
Has he ever.
“I’m 15 and I go to Metro (Early College) High School,” Antonio now says when he introduces himself. “I’m also a small-business owner.”
With nudges and encouragement from his family and from Johnson, Antonio shrugged off the coronavirus blues (and the TV) and set about becoming an entrepreneur.
His sneaker-restoration business, marketed online via @kicksbytone, hums along in the basement of his family’s East Side home.
“He has real customers and real orders,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of him. He has so much potential.”
Antonio offers light cleaning and deep cleaning of sneakers, removing scuffs and stains and debris from shoes so that they look brand new, whether for wear or collecting. A light cleaning typically costs his customers about $20, and it’s about $25 for the deep clean.
He “re-ices” the soles of beloved Jordans and Yeezys in a UV light box. Sometimes, he applies new colors and designs with acrylic leather paint.
Finished products are neatly shrink-wrapped and tagged.
“I use social media, I go to thrift stores,” Antonio said. “I want to get bigger.” Sometimes his thrift store finds turn up worn sneakers that he then restores to sell.
His pace already has surprised his parents and older sister. “We’d come home and see this line of cars,” McNeil said, laughing. “I thought, ’What’s going on?’ They were Antonio’s customers, dropping off and picking up shoes.”
The life skills and lessons that go along with running even a tiny business at a tender age are obvious, Johnson said. “It teaches accountability. If he says you’re going to get your shoes in 14 days, well, then, you’re going to want your shoes.”
Antonio said he wasn’t upset when Metro, which is on Columbus’ Northwest Side, shifted to remote learning until at least into October. But as the weeks dragged on, he felt his mood change.
“It’s fun at first, but then it starts to get old,” he said. “I never really liked going out all that much, anyway, but I was like, ’There’s really nothing to do now.’’’
Watching hour after hour of “Grey’s Anatomy,” he said with a grin, started to seem reasonable.
So many children and teens have struggled to adjust and to stay on track during the pandemic, Johnson said. She’s thrilled that Antonio, who has a supportive family and keen interests, found ways to thrive.
She worries about those who face a bumpier path.
McNeil said “Miss Reese” – as the kids at Directions for Youth and Families refer to Johnson – works hard to show them possibility.
“If it weren’t for the program being there, I don’t know if he would be this deep into it,” McNeil said of her son’s sneaker business.
Antonio also loves to cook — his family says his shrimp alfredo is amazing — and he wants to attend culinary school. Restoring sneakers “could be a good hustle for college,” Johnson said. “His mom is big on saving.”
Still, Antonio thought he could perhaps sneak one past his mom and get her to sign off on a new pair of “school shoes.” She reminded him that he’ll be learning from home for at least the next several weeks.
McNeil also noted the north-of-$200 price tag. “Nice try, Antonio.”