Monday, October 29, 2007
I was thinking it might be time for a new hat, so I went to the best place to buy such an item in this city: Arnold Hatters. I used to go there when the shop was on 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, right where it had been for the past several decades, until the government declared the entire block blighted, seized it, and passed the property on to the New York Times in a sweetheart deal.
As Times writer Dan Barry wrote, “Someone invoked those magical words, ‘eminent domain,’ and presto: say goodbye to several small businesses on Eighth Avenue.” Thankfully, for Arnold Hatters that goodbye didn’t mean forever. The shop moved to 8th and 37th in the shadow of the Times tower that displaced it.
Times tower risen
I tried on a herringbone fedora and talked about the blighting with Peter Rubin, son of Arnold Rubin, after whom the shop is named.
“I never used to be political,” Peter told me, “I voted and figured everything just took care of itself. But then this happened. It’s changed everything for me.” Disillusioned, betrayed by the city of his birth and a government that bulldozes small business owners, he reminisced about the former shop.
“My great uncle built all the shelves in the old place. They were solid. If you fell against them, you felt how solid they were. He made them with white oak. We wanted to take them, for the new place, but the city wouldn’t let us. They said the shelves were permanent fixtures and we’d have to buy them back.”
The Rubins didn’t go for that ridiculous deal and their great uncle’s solid white-oak shelves were destroyed in the demolition. “I wish I was the city,” Peter said, “I wouldn’t do stuff like this. A lot of people would be mad at me, but not the people who live and work in this town.”
His brother Mark finished up with a customer and came over to join us, unlit cigarette in hand. I asked him how business was doing since the move. He told me they still get the theater people and the faithful customers, but they’ve lost the important Port Authority traffic. “Manhattan’s funny,” Mark said, “We’re just four blocks away, but it’s another world down here. We’re down 40% of what we did in our last year in the old location.”
Mark, Peter, and their father Arnold were all named Rubin, but that was also a forced change. Their family name was originally something very Eastern European and difficult to pronounce, so the officials at Ellis Island decided to make it easier on themselves.
“The city screwed us back then, too,” the brothers joked, trying to see the humor in it all.
Mark wearing the Arnold Hatters "Raider"
Peter in the Stefeno Cagney