Play Nice, Not Fair
Story and photos by James Chow
In the heart of East Village stands a solitary building adorned with a gold and purple mural of Kobe Bryant’s head and window art of a basketball swishing through a hoop. For nine months, while a “For Rent” sign was displayed outside, the building held countless listening parties, art installations, open mics, financial literacy workshops and voter registration booths.
The ever-changing space has transformed once again. Now, it’s Play Nice, a vintage clothing shop specializing in sports jerseys and regalia.
Owners Jon Drino, Ryan Hoyle and Whest Cornell are Long Beach natives and Cal State Long Beach graduates who never expected to open a retail shop. “We all had hoop dreams,” Drino says. “We all thought we were gonna be in the [NBA] league.”
One might not expect three casual street hoopers with degrees in business and liberal arts to have such a keen eye for fashion, but their vintage fashion game is strong. The secondhand fashion gurus have been studying the industry for years. “The recycling of fashion isn't new, and it's not going to stop,” Drino says.
Their space hosts a hodgepodge selection of NBA jerseys, which hang on a metal rack beside a jonquil yellow locker on the right side of the shop. Adjacent to the basketball gear is an assortment of vintage pastel shirts. Retro band t-shirts, collectible pairs of sneakers and sports regalia are also in the mix, and most came from the owners’ personal collections.
Drino likened his shop experience to being like a personal tailor for his customers. “It feels like I'm reaching into my closet,” he says.
But the musty smells and color-block sights of the retro gear are only half of Play Nice. In the middle of the store, past the traded regalia, art exhibitions fill a white space. Though the shop-art contrast is stark, the owners felt that providing both would be the best way to establish engagement with the community, something Cornell felt he needed when he was younger.
“You see the climate that we're in, you see the world that we're in, it's mad tense,” Cornell says. “I feel like we give people the opportunity to come in here and engage. You don't always have to shop, but we give you the art. It's an escapism that doesn't exist anywhere else.”
Community outreach is a priority at Play Nice. It’s why the owners also continue to curate community events, such as producer showcases and art shows, despite settling on the retail theme.
“This is a creative studio for us,” Hoyle says. “You can connect with the owners. There's no other spot where you can come in and kick it and put bags down and relax, drop your shoulders and breathe.”