Return to Workshop Writers' Space
H-A-T S-T-O-R-E, I’m typing into my computer. Google delivers a stream of consciousness about hats, mostly about online retailers who will pull a hat from some anonymous warehouse and send it to you.
Not what I’m looking for. I want a funky old retail experience.
Peck, peck, peck. (in the televised version of this story you'll hear the keys clicking, just like Carrie Bradshaw's used to do.) "Haberdashery Manhattan." Instant results again, showing that I don’t really know the meaning of the term, even if I do remember that Harry Truman was no good at being one. It says a haberdasher is more of a general men’s store than a hatter.
So, is a hatter one who makes hats or one who sells them? No matter, I’d love to find both. Suzy says I can have my Christmas present early.
New search, "Hatters NYC," pulls up an article I saw a while ago about one of the few remaining stores in Manhattan that sells hats the “old fashioned way” JJ Hats, on Fifth Avenue. The laundry is ready to go into the dryer and after that, we’re off.
"It's Christmas time, so let's take the bus down Fifth Avenue," she suggests. Our seats for this performance are elevated above the hordes of people who are window-shopping at the "if you're out on the sidewalk looking in the windows you can't afford it here" stores.
As we slowly pass Rockefeller Center a number of people on the bus agree, this is just exactly the best way to experience the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a glimpse over the crowds and down the alley way. Traffic eases some, once we get to the library. And, here we come.
JJ Hats, purveyors to New York gentlemen for more than 100 years. The store has two long showcases on either side, with glass cabinets behind. Everyone over fifty has been in dozens of stores like this, but probably not recently. Up above is a narrow balcony, seemingly too small for shoppers, but just the right sized repository for the hat boxes from Italy and Spain and wherever. The balcony is jammed full since any quality hat must be accompanied by a large hat box.
The salesmen all wear hats, even if they don't quite match their otherwise casual wear. They are all young, the sort to wear their hats informally while strutting on the street or breakdancing. They are also well trained, especially in the arts of presentation and upselling.
Our salesman knows his work is one part education and two parts flattery. He pulls out a Fedora for me and carefully shapes it, telling me how to do this myself and how to fix it when it gets wet or out of shape or whatever. In one minute he's got me focused on how I'm going to take care of my hat.
Sure, he's happy to show me other hats. "Don't want you to think I want you to buy the first hat you see," he says, lying through his pearly teeth since Hat A on my head is three times the cost of Hat B over there.
Normally, I'd buy something like this from the Senegalese guy on the corner for $15, tops. But, there's a lot of emotional baggage with this purchase…I'll look more like my father, I'll keep my head warm in the winter, and besides it's a Christmas present.
Suzy and the salesman and I all know that Hat A looks better than any of the Hats B. In no time she's saying "yes," and he's steaming and shaping the hat using a steamer JJ may have bought at Harry Truman's going-out-of-business sale. I'm left to calculate how this one hat is probably equal to a month of my father's post-war salary, but promise myself I'll wear it enough to get the cost down to $1 a day.
Walking back up Fifth Avenue, with Hat A on my head, and a hat box too that will never fit in the closet, Suzy stops at Lord and Taylor to buy a nice scarf to go with it.
Back on the street she teases, "Now if you're going to look this good you can't go walking on the street alone anymore." Just then, a nice looking woman coming the other way looks up, she looks down, and then she smiles.
So that's how it works!