Two brothers and their friends swill Dos Equis and grill hot dogs late Saturday night. Smoke rises against a mural of gritty street art. The smell of smoke, the sound of overlapping voices contrast sharply with the clean, white-walled interior of BLX (pronounced “blocks”), a downtown skate shop that emphasizes community over commodity.
By blending local art and quality merchandise, the shop on the corner of East Toole and Seventh Avenue revitalizes the typical skateboarders’ sanctuary. Its street attitude is amicable and cool without being trendy or trite.
Brothers Zen and Kenzo Butler, alongside partner Jerry Jordan, opened the doors to this carefully crafted storefront in the fall of 2011. Jordan, the retail visionary, unified aspects of music, art and skateboarding within the shop.
A notable characteristic of BLX is the expansive street art along the shop’s exterior.
“I think [the shop] was kind of designed to have art up in the beginning,” said Zen Butler. “All of the lights were designed like a gallery. And Jerry has always loved art, Jerry paints all the time. So that was already established.”
These captivating works are a testament to the do-it-yourself mentality that the partnership supports. With a minimalist interior that features high ceilings and spacious windows, and a basement that promotes the works of a new local artist every month, BLX is radically different from the skate shop might expect.
While there are staple brands like Supra, Diamond Supply Co. and Converse, BLX also offers unique and underground styles. Whether it’s hand-painted T-shirts from a local artist or vintage 1960s letterman jackets, it’s evident that the Butlers and Jordan value quality over quantity.
Their passion and hometown pride for the city of Tucson reside within the shop, as anyone who hangs out around BLX will tell you. While the shop showcases dozens of skateboards, some of which were designed by Kenzo Butler and Jordan themselves, it is a haven for non-riders as well.
From sponsored skaters to rappers to those who just kick back for the hell of it, BLX has become something of an alternative lifestyle hub for the downtown area. No matter what their background is, it seems that each individual has something to say about BLX.
“The owner is super approachable and I always felt like he cared about me,” said Nico Rizzo, a former skateboarder for the shop. “It’s just very real and open and I feel like they’ve got good intentions, like they’re trying to promote the skateboarding scene here and the art scene and just the adolescent community in general.”
On Nov. 10, BLX held the Blocks Party, an event that brought together some of Tucson’s varied athletes and artists. The seven hour-long party was packed with music vendors, photography and art, discounts on BLX merchandise and free hot dogs. These efforts went toward an overall goal of raising awareness for the community as well as appreciation for street culture.
“I feel like they’ve done a lot for the community, honestly,” Rizzo said in regards to the Blocks Party. “For how recent the BLX opened up, they’re definitely doing a very good job, they definitely try.”
When asked about what drove him to want to be part of the skate shop, Tucson rapper Riyadh Paddio said he liked the local appeal of BLX. “They love this city and they love what they do. They love skateboarding. They’re passionate about it. I’m passionate about rap and I don’t even skateboard and I’m associated with this,” said Paddio, who participated in the Blocks Party event. “I love what they’re doing. BLX is a great thing for the city.”
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