SC: I understand FTC started way before the EMB days?
Kent Uyehara: From the time I was born my dad was operating a ski shop, Free Trade Center, he was a biochemist by trade but his leisure side I guess, he liked skiing. He actually didn’t start FTC, he started working there part time as a ski bum I suppose. In a very short amount of time, somehow, he had the opportunity to take over that place. Originally Free Trade Center form what I know, was an importing business that focused on sporting goods primarily from Asia and Europe -it started in 1966 or 1967. And I was born in 68… So they decided to in the same building to turn the front of the building into a retail store, that’s when my father stepped in and, I guess right place right time, that’s when these sports started to blow up. I grew up always being the son of a sports shop owner…
How did you develop that interest for skateboarding?
I had an older brother, Lance, he was already skateboarding. He had a skateboard, I wanted a skateboard. Also in the late 70s FTC had a bike shop. And in the bike shop they’d already carry skateboards. Original Sims wide boards, all natural wood, 11′’ wide, wheel wells…
And so, my first real skateboard came from that bike shop, for Christmas one year. It was a Santa Cruz fiberglass slalom board. It was orange -sick. Luckily we had a set of cones…. It was the late ’70s, I mean.
How did the actual skate corner in FTC, the ski shop, happen?
Basically before “my time”, I was already selling skateboards. What happened was that in 1984, when I was in sophomore, I asked my dad one day if I could try to order some skateboard stuff using the store’s resale license, ‘cause I had been buying my stuff through these other stores and specifically I didn’t wanna go to Skates on Height.
So that was for your own personal use?
Yeah, at first. The first people I contacted was Powell. They were like, “no problem, $100 minimum,” two decks, couple sets of Rat Bones, couple rails and tailbones. I did it a couple times, and I started ordering for friends I was skating with all the time, and in the beginning I was just hooking up my crew, just friends from high school. But the realized, wait a minute, the word was getting out at high school that there was this guy you can buy skate stuff from, so suddenly I started getting random people coming up to me and asking me, like, “hey, can I buy something from you?”
So I quickly put together a mini-catalog in a binder. And again, it’s really because I grew up in that retail environment, I always grew up as always thinking how to start something from nothing. When Star Wars came out in 1977, I remember convinced my dad to let me sell Star Wars merchandise at his FTC store, I had a little stand inside the store. With all the ski stuff, and the there was a little random Star Wars section selling t-shirts and posters…
Anyway. For these “catalogs,”, what I would do is that basically I’d take orders and set up a schedule. On a certain day of the month I’d take orders an then the stuff would arrive in probably a week. The difference is that if that was the retail price, and that was the wholesale price I’d give you the middle price. I didn’t really care about making the money. But I was getting my personal stuff for free, it was being paid for all the other stuff I was selling.
Did your catalog have a rad ’80s name?
I don’t think it did -I remember I had a price list but that was about it –there might have bee a FTC mention somewhere. I was doing the orders and everything. Funny thing too, I remember being 15 going to my first ASR show, and it was funny cause everybody was clowning me, ‘cause I was so young -”Where’s your dad? Where’s your parents at?” I don’t even remember if I went with my dad to that first one. I was doing the buying when I was 15 or 16.
Then at one point my dad was like, hey it looks like you’re buying a lot of stuff -if you want we can give you a section on the wall.. That’s how the skate chapter of FTC started.
And then it gets epic… Full interview in the FTC book