Monday, June 1, 2009

Arnold Hatters


With heavy heart, I report that Arnold Hatters has gone out of business after almost 50 years and 3 generations.

Thanks to a commenter who tipped me to the store's closure, I called the hatters last week and spoke with owner Arnold Rubin's son Mark. He told me things have been bad since Black Friday. The holiday season and the cold weather, their usual picker-uppers, didn't pick up.

"I'm selling a product that in the 21st century is a luxury item. People need to eat. So they're making do with last year's hat."

Combine that with the economy's effect on Broadway, the Rubins' bread-and-butter. "We've lost 20 Broadway shows and I've lost my costuming business. On a slow day, a costumer might come in and order 12 fedoras, 16 applejack caps, and a cowboy hat, and that bad day would turn everything around." Then the theater costumers vanished, too.

2007: the windows full of hats

But the economy is not entirely to blame.

Arnold Hatters first vanished from their original location across from the Port Authority, in 2003 when the city seized their property, along with the entire block, in an eminent domain grab. Today, the New York Times tower stands on that site.

today: an empty shop

A little battered but still sturdy, Arnold Hatters survived the move. In October 2007, at their new location further down 8th Avenue, I talked to the owners' sons, brothers Peter and Mark Rubin. They were struggling to regain their lost customers.

"Manhattan’s funny," Mark said back then, "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."

Now, with the economy in freefall, they are down for the count with no plans to reopen. On their website they write, "Due to the worsening condition of the economy, we have had to close our doors and go out of business. We're very grateful for your patronage over the years. God bless you all."

the Rubin brothers in 2007

In a city that has waged an assault on small business, where multinational corporations, chain stores, and banks dominate the urban landscape, mom and pops like Arnold Hatters, already hobbled by Bloomberg's vision of development, will continue to vanish in this weak economy. And men and women who've only known the family business, will join the ranks of the unemployed.

"I'm positive if I was still in the old location, I'd be weathering this economy," said Mark, "Instead, with three kids and a mortgage, I'm writing the first resume of my life."

Also see:
On Hats & Hatters
Arnold Hatters Revisited


EV Grieve said...

Nice to start a Monday with a good cry.

Anonymous said...

It's awful and outrageous. This story - from when you first started covering it - also makes me hate the New York Times. - BN

Bowery Boogie said...


Brooks of Sheffield said...

Hell of a piece of news. Rats.

Deantown said...

It's almost pre-ordained. Anyone reemember Van Dyke Hatters on 6th or 7th right below Herald Square, which made it into the 80s and also relied on the Broadway theater trade?

When Worth and Worth ( moved from its storefront on Madison west of Grand Central to a hotel suite on Sixth, the end was nigh.

Too bad Arnold couldn't follow the Worth & Worth model and try to make a run online.

On 13th Avenue in Brooklyn, there are still these cats:

I'm betting Clyde Haberman (hat wearer) of the Gray Lady will write on this soon.

L'Emmerdeur said...

The silver lining here is that karma does strike at times... the NYT is circling the drain... funnier still, our country spent 8 years torturing, invading, murdering, and raping on foreign soil, and now karma is taking a massive shit in our collective mouths.

See? In these cases, justice served is justice deserved.

Now I'm waiting for the massive eco-disaster in China and someone truly lovable to run against Bloomberg and crush him like a bug.

Nick said...

Damnit - I was just there the other day (and looking forward to going back). Damnit damnit...

Anonymous said...

Just bought a hat here a few months ago - the nicest guy helped me find one among their diverse collection. What a crime - another unique business gone from the city.

Jon Sobel said...

They should reopen in Williamsburg. All the hipsters are wearing hats. It's positively weird.

Melanie said...

My Dad used to buy his hats from Knox--hats are making a comeback--I hope they relocate too--I love hats!!!

Curly said...

I just learned about this last night on the subway when I saw it, out of the corner of my eye, in a newspaper someone else was reading. Mere days before they closed I had purchased the best eight panel "Gatsby" I've ever owned. When I was talking with the guys in the store It was like being with old friends. They're real people, no retail put-on. I had no idea closing was coming soon. I hope they give it another shot elsewhere. Maybe Brooklyn? Pretty Please!

I guess most can call a hat a "luxury" but those of us who are completely bald call it a necessity. I shudder to think that someday the only affordable hats will be ball caps.

The more I think about this turn of events, the more I think I'm going to be sick!

Jeff Baity said...

I live in North Carolina. I have four hats from Arnold Hatters. The Raider is the best dress hat made.

Please come back!! You guys are the best in the country.

pwlsax said...

Styles change faster than macroeconomics. Arnold's could probably do great in The 'Burg, but they'd have to start from absolute zero. Their trade was firmly based among the unhipsters, the stylish guys in unstylish neighborhoods.

As for e-commerce: This is such a traditional trade, they don't take to it well. You get one small picture, a list of colors (no samples), and if you're very fortunate, a few dimensions. The assumption is that you'll come in and get fit decently. But the assumption's no longer workable.

Trades like this tend to rest upon old dogs who can't learn new tricks, and young dogs who can't smell new markets.

Anonymous said...

Peter Rubin stored new hats for my brother, a rabbi, in Israel.
On the outside chance that his hats didn't go with the store, do you have an email address or telephone to reach Peter? email:

Jeremiah Moss said...

i'll be glad to forward your note and email to the rubins. hope they can help you.

Unknown said...

I am one of the costumers who bought hats for shows from Arnold's. I was out of town on a show, when they closed, and was struck dumn when I walked down 8th Ave yesterday to go buy some hats, and they were not there! I went on-line looking for them, to see if they might be still selling there, but saw only that message. I"m just hearbroken. They were so wonderful to work with. Please tell them "Sam" says hi if you are in touch with the Rubins.

Anonymous said...

I remember in 1993 or 94' when I first saw Arnold Hatters I was 15 or 16 at the time. The store was closed for the day but I remember being taken away by how the hats were beautifully displayed in the window. I always said one day I'll be back to buy a hat from them. I eventually did. I wish they were still in bussiness.

melissaC said...

i came to nyc when i was 18 and walked by their store every day when i went to clas. I saved up my money my second year and bought my first black felt fedora. The guys were always so nice and taught me about hats and how they are to be worn and fit. I bought a hat from them every year for the next 4... beginning of this fall i was on my way to seek out my yearly hat and they were closed... you'll be missed arnold hatters...

W. T. Eckert said...

Every year on the 27th and 28th of December "The Annual" is celebrated by two old friends. This became a tradition that has carried on for 5 years now. During said tradition, a stop would always be made by Arnold's and a hat of some design would be bought. This is the fifth time in six years that "The Annual" was celebrated and my heart was crushed to approach the sealed doors of my favorite hatters. Where can we go now? What are we to do? One thing that I am sure of, my friend and I will forever mourn the loss of this momentous stop during our yearly tradition.

If the Rubin family is out there, "Please give it another shot somewhere!" If it isn't possible, I would like to give my sincerest thanks for the many great memories. I'l wear your hats with pride.

W.T. Eckert

Anonymous said...

I have purchased hats in the past for my son in San Francisco..he is almost bald and loves the look of
the Kangor (?) hats.

With Christmas right around the corner, I was planning my annual trip to NYC and was excited about getting my son a new hat...I am sick about this store closing... any hats still available that did not get "closed out" with the store?

laura said...

maybe i am related to them?

treschic53 said...

Wow-- I googled Van Dyke Custom Hatters and got this Arnold blog. Very sad. Yes, the great independent retailers are rapidly disappearing from the NY scene.
I inherited 3 mens hats, all vintage 1960's-1970's, and decided to research a bit.
Just like the garment business, it's all disappearing.
The personal touch of small, knowledgable retailers is harder and harder to find.