Pete MacKay, 31, owns and operates Shallow End Skate Shop, located at 2557 Amber St. in East Kensington. The shop and the brand he co-owns, Gnarhammered Skateboards, have become fixtures in the Philadelphia skateboarding community in a short amount of time. Through tireless hard work, MacKay is using this “clubhouse that I made reality” to give local youths a place to progress in skateboarding, avoid unhealthy activities, and genuinely be themselves.
How’d the shop come to be?
I got in a whole lot of trouble when I was a youngster and got sent to the alternative high school where I grew up in Connecticut. When I was there, they required us to do an internship, so I got a gig with my local skate shop, Axis Board Sports.
At the time, there was no Internet presence with skating. The skate shop was the entire hub of the community. That became a second home for me. We would have to do projects on weird things, but it was about what we wanted to do. My projects were on legalized marijuana, skateboard shops and developing a skateboard brand. And two of those things are 100 percent of what my life revolves around now.
Do you see yourself as a role model to young skaters in the area?
I’ve been clean for almost 10 years now. I worked really hard to get here. There’s a lot of young guys in the area that I relate to quite a bit. They all call me Uncle Pete and they’re all my nephews. I don’t know if my responsibility is to take care of anyone, but it is my responsibility to show people a better way if I know of one.
If there’s anything about me that’s worthy of being viewed through the light of a role model, it’s transparency. That’s the only way that works for me in life in general. I think that my openness with people allows others to be open with me and to feel comfortable talking about things that they might not necessarily be comfortable talking about with other people. Each one teach one, man. I learn something from my 16-year-old guys as much as I’m teaching them.
It’s just about giving back. These kids need spots to skate. Everything about the shop is far more beautiful than what I pictured it to be. I pictured a business, I didn’t imagine it’d become a home to so many people, and I didn’t think that it was going to open up all these relationships with people in my life. I’ve raised quite a bit of money for the FDR Skatepark because of the shop, and we’ve done so much work down there as a result.
How important do you feel the skateboarding community is to Philadelphia and Kensington in particular?
I don’t think it could be any more important. Nowhere in the world has the same brotherhood that the Philadelphia skateboard community has. It’s really unreal and absolutely essential, especially here in Kensington. Whether your parents are happily married and you got 12 brothers and sisters and you guys make lots of money, or if you’re poor and from a broken home, you guys are still going to have the same amount of relief when you’re on that skateboard and out there riding. Especially here in Kensington, there’s a lot of youngsters that really depend on this place. They all keep an eye on the shop and we all take care of each other.
In Kensington of all places, right?
Yeah, that’s the thing. I’m really rough around the edges. I’m a gnarly-looking dude, I cuss like a sailor and I smoke like a pirate. It’s just what I am. But somehow people will know that I will give you the shirt off my back, give you a big hug and tell you how much I love you two seconds later.
What would be your pitch to anyone in the community that wants to get involved here?
It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t skateboarders, but my shop is the place you go to to find all the things you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I know skateboarding enough to try and carry the things that are right for anyone, no matter what interest you have in. Because of that, we’re the one-stop-shop in the community to get whatever it is that you’re really looking for. If you’re just looking for a warm place to watch a skate movie, we’ve got that too.
– Text and images by Cameron Alexander and Kyle Morgan