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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Coterie manager Hannibal Nisperos brings the real to hip retail

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Happiness through hanging: Hannibal Nisperos wants to help everyone find their unique style.

Hannibal Nisperos is a hipster the way that Johnny Rotten was a punk rocker or Allen Ginsberg was a beatnik. He’s that rare strain of original cool whose personal vibe becomes a statement that others follow in fashion or thought.

One of the first stories I heard about “Hannibal”—I considered his name a fiction to summarize a roughshod, conquering personality—was a “Jedi mind trick,” as he calls it, to deal with Las Vegas’ infamously bad drivers.

When some meathead cuts him off on the highway, Hannibal doesn’t get angry. “The Sage,” as he is nicknamed, tells himself it’s a good thing, that it means he just won $1,000. By the end of the ride, if he’s cut off or nearly hit enough times, he can get home and proclaim, “I just won $10,000!”

He’s that rare person who has defeated his own ego. For him, money and power and conquering is a secondary goal to, simply, living.

So when you meet the 41-year-old, you want to try the Jedi mind trick for traffic. I did, and for a few weeks it seemed to work. Then I forgot about it and fell back into the familiar, warm embrace of cursing my fellow bad drivers.

It wasn’t my thing. In Hannibal’s world, you focus on your strengths.

“I feel like everybody has this potential superpower and once you find it, life is going to be easier,” he says. “For me, I think I’m good at helping people, at encouraging them not to give up and those cliché teacher things. You’re perfect in who you are, or you only live this life once, so might as well learn from it.”

That’s not stuff just for adults. When Hannibal taught fourth- and fifth-graders for 10 years, before quitting to help his sister open Downtown boutique Coterie, some of his proudest moments were at the end of the year when students would send notes or tell him they had always hated school until he became their teacher.

He doesn’t keep those notes, of course. The past is gone, he says. He’s 100 percent confident in who he is today: the yoga-practicing, fedora-wearing, occasionally flannel-sporting manager of a hip clothing store.

If others glom onto him, his look or vibe, he gets that, too.

“Through my journey, I’ve come to the conclusion ... that I think a lot of people become spiritual, or show some spirituality that you see in the quotes posted on Facebook or Instagram. They always have a quote. It shows you that everybody is looking for their spiritual selves.”

The quest to belong or believe in something is evident in those who attach to a fashion, a band, a particular bar or even a corporate culture.

Matt Heller, a branding guy who lives Downtown and is writing a book on the Millennial generation, says he sees hipster fashion in a similar light as Beatnik, punk or hippie fashion—each according to the needs of a particular generation.

Hannibal thinks everyone just wants to attain happiness, and sometimes adopting a style—conforming or not—can help you get there. He helps simply by doing what so many fail at in this age of tuning into smartphones and turning off those around you.

“It’s my job to sit here and talk about what are people’s goals and, not to be cliché, but just try to listen,” he says. “Hanging out is my superpower. And I can hang out here in this store with the best of them.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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