Business of the Month: The Hat Shop, 120 Thompson Street
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Strolling the neighborhood of our newest proposed historic district there is a special section along Thompson Street between Prince and Spring Streets of quaint locally owned small shops. That is where you will find The Hat Shop, opened over 21 years ago — our December 2016 Business of the Month.
The proprietor is Linda Pagan, and her family is from the North of England. She first was inspired by the area on a school trip when she was 16. She told her parents that is where she wanted to live as an artist, but they told her they could only afford one artist in the family. Her brother was the artist, so she went another route that wound via Wall Street. At some point she thought about what she really wanted to do, which hitherto no one had asked her. She was brimming with a passion and interest in hats, and so not long after, The Hat Shop was born.
She was looking for spaces all over, from the East Village to the West Village, but nothing seemed to pan out. That is until a neighbor informed her that this lovely space was becoming available. She opened on 9-9-95, and the auspicious number 9 figures into the décor and arrangements, as hats are displayed nine to a rack.
Linda was knowledgeable about and excited for the proposed Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, noting how this area is a “real neighborhood.” Everyone knows each other on the block, they receive each other’s packages and drop off keys and watch out through the lace curtains in the windows above the narrow street. Linda pointed out numerous neighbors walking by the shop.
This stretch is the third of what she notes is the tripartite aspect of the area. There is Broadway, the new 34th Street as she called it. There is West Broadway, which is “like a mall dropped on it”. And then there is the rest of the neighborhood, where small locally run shops like hers still exist. “It is an authentic neighborhood,” she says.
With a deep connection to the rich Italian-American heritage of the area, many of the old timers would sit on the bench she puts out front of her quaint shop. Inside there is a photo and engraved on a special chair is a plaque in honor of long time local resident Dolores Castellano. You can sit there too.
In the seat that day was hat fan and longtime customer and friend Jenny who first stopped in years ago while walking her dog. Why does she like it there and purchase her many hats at The Hat Shop? “Only fabulousness can be in my realm” she said matter of factly. “You can breathe it in, and see the eye candy of hats.” And it is true.
She pointed out a special one with a ribbon around including a shiny lipstick holder. Another had a cigar and wild turkey feather adorning the brim. Needing to catch a train, yet lingering, because there is a “force field” and it is also hard to leave The Hat Shop.
Linda has numerous regular customers and people just stop in out of curiosity. Her clients include Yoko Ono and Cyndi Lauper. Fellow Thompson Street shop owner Jessy Levy of Legacy across the street came in for one of her hats, just delivered.
This year a very tall gentleman, 6’9″ to be exact, came in seeking to buy some hats. Seeing a ladder out and a darkened section of the space he offered to help change the lightbulbs. Not needing the ladder, his elbows were even at a 45 degree angle to the ceiling as he reached up. It was Kevin Durant, the NBA star and one of the 7 Best Dressed Athletes in Hats, likely in town for a game against the Knicks. In lieu of a large tip he contributed to the ThornTree Project charity that focuses on families in Kenya, of which Linda is on the Board.
According to Linda there are five major reasons that account for her shop’s success and longevity.
Their hats are only made of the finest materials. It may be from Manitoba to China, but depending on the hat it is made of the best Panama straw, the best horse hair, winter velour or rabbit or beaver. She showed me a sample of Milan straw, which is actually grown in Northern China and gained prominence in use by Italian milliners. And the beads on one hat were securely stitched in four times.
The Hat Shop has incredible knowledge. They know it all about hats. Two fingers under a brim, one finger above your eye brow, a hat will take into account a look at your face and eyes and chin to size the crown proportion. And they too know why the mad hatter went mad.
They are honest. The do not try to oversell you. Given that their only advertisements are their hats, and hat boxes, it has to look good. “It is not like lingerie” Linda said, “everyone sees your hat.” And perhaps uniquely for a business that requires the selling of things, they have a two hat maximum per day. Really. They do not want any buyer’s remorse from a hat fanatic that splurges, you can always come in the next day. My favorite was a fedora of a distinguished color that you can scrunch and roll up, and it maintains in the rain.
Like any successful shop they have impeccable and distinct customer service. They have friendly and passionate staff. And you can bring in any hat you purchased anytime to be cleaned, steamed, stitched, ribbons switched, they deliver to the home bound or infirm and can dress you on the day of a big event even.
Finally, it is their passion. They are passionate about hats. One can learn sales or how to best pack a delicate cocktail hat and plume, but you have to have a certain creative verve or je ne sais quoi to be there. One of the family behind the counter one day and all around helping customers, with a purple measuring tape around her neck that seems de rigueur for the team, was Emilija Guobyte-Krzeminski, also a self-taught engaging photographer referred to by Linda as her “boss”.
Emilija noted that the shop reflects the personality of the owner and The Hat Shop is energetic and welcoming, like Linda Pagan. And everyone knows her and not just because she always wears a hat. You can see more of them on Instagram.
She curates and edits a wide range of hats for any season or occasion. And if you like a particular hat, but not the color, they can usually have it made in a hue you prefer.
April is their busiest season with the Kentucky Derby, upcoming weddings and… sun protection. “Climate change is real, at least in this store.” Linda observes. It used to be that winter was the best season for sales, but now they see more in the spring and summer. They also ship anywhere across the world.
So what are you waiting for? You can get a taste of Thompson Street anytime. Check out the hats and sit in the shop and talk with Linda and the staff about hats, the community, the importance of small local businesses and, as Dolores Castellano used to say “…and things of that nature.”
What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc
And here is a handy map of all the shops: