'Shoezeum' taking heart and sole to Vegas

Jordy Geller's epic shoe collection opens to the public later this month in Sin City. ESPN.com Illustration

Millions of people go to Las Vegas each year to gamble, so the fact Jordy Geller is rolling the dice in Sin City isn’t anything special.

What’s different is the bet he’s making -- that visitors to the desert oasis will spend $10 each to look at his shoes.

In a city where visitors go to glitzy shows, stare at dancing fountains, get married with an Elvis impersonator, check out the Pinball Hall of Fame, or ride a zip line over the neon canyon that is Fremont Street, Geller is banking that locals and tourists will want to ogle his 2,500 pairs of Nikes at his Shoezeum.

Geller’s collection -- transplanted from a warehouse in San Diego -- is due to open to the public Aug. 30 in its new home in a 7,500-square foot space in the Neonopolis mall and entertainment complex at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street.

His is the largest private collection of Nikes in the world, an assortment of shoes related to sports and pop culture in a variety of colors and designs, covering everything from Air Jordans to Beatles-themed high tops and sneakers patterned after comic book heroes.

Geller, who has been amassing his collection for years (and estimates its worth at more than $1 million), had been looking for a place for his Shoezeum where it would get more attention. Always, Vegas had been a target.

Now, after adding about 500 shoes, finding a home at the Neonopolis and setting up shop -- displaying the shoes in 23 themed exhibits, including a new “Welcome to Las Vegas” area that has card- and drinking-related Nikes -- he’s excited about the possibilities. Since the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a front-page story last week on the Shoezeum’s impending debut, Geller has been swamped with emails and messages from people wanting to visit.

“Las Vegas seemed like the right destination for it because there’s so many people coming in here weekend after weekend after weekend,” he said.

The Shoezeum will open at 4 p.m. each day, providing a little distraction for the estimated 16.8 million people who walk the streets near the Neonopolis each year, Geller said.

Although not everyone is a sneakerhead like he is, he knows the pop culture and sports themes attract interest. Also, pro hoops stars have their basketball camps in Vegas, and UNLV brings in basketball fans.

“And you’ve got all these celebrities coming in every weekend to do their shows,” he said. “What I have is so unique and appeals to so many people that a lot of hip-hop artists and entertainers are going to want to come see this.”

Will the Shoezeum be a winner? Geller hopes a city that welcomed Elvis’ blue suede shoes and Liberace’s sequined sneakers will buy into his shoe museum.

If the shoes fit, he’ll be jumping for joy … in his Air Jordans.