Step back in time, to 1918 to be exact. That's when Peruvian émigré Napolean Marquez opened Paul's Hat Works in San Francisco. Flash forward to 2011 and the shop looks just about the same as it did more than 90 years ago. It is outfitted with vintage hooks and shelves, custom hat making equipment, and an antique cash register that can only calculate sales up to $4.99. Today, the shop is run by four young friends: Wendy Hawkins, Kirsten Hove, Olivia Griffin, and Abbie Dwelle, who are breathing new life into a dying trade.
Griffin discovered the shop when she was eating breakfast at a diner next door. She wandered in and spent hours chatting with the owner, Michael Harris. He told her he wanted to sell the business-economic times were tough and people didn't buy custom hats like they used to. Griffin told her friends about the opportunity and they all thought it was a piece of history worth keeping alive. "Everybody's dreams come true here," says Hove. Hawkins adds, "Hats are tradition, they spark conversation. Hats allow people to re-create themselves."
Harris gave the new owners a six-month crash course in hat making. "There are a lot of trade secrets in the art of hat making and every hatter has their own way of doing things," explains Griffin. They learned to build and refurbish all manner of hats from fedoras to homburgs. "They are made to be tossed around and worn in the rain and sat on and shoved behind your car seat," says Griffin.
Sometimes a customer will come in with an old hat their grandfather bought at the store decades before. Paul's Hat Works can clean, repair, and re-size it for the new owner. "It's cool to have that connection," says Dwelle. "[They] are the next generation hat wearer, and I'm the next generation hat maker."
Hove believes that, like the lovingly crafted hats themselves, the business is going to last for decades to come. Paul's Hat Works has become more than a store. It is a place where neighbors stop by grab to a cup of coffee from a pot that's always on the front counter, put a record on the vintage turntable, or make a suggestion for the next window display. Hove says, "When people come into the shop it's like they have stepped back into a time when conversations and spending time with your neighbors was really important…that's success for us."
Footage courtesy of Lyniel DaoRelated links:
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