Mad Hatters and Happy Hat Shops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m supposed to write about Comic-Con, right? Because it’s a crazy wild gathering of the most over-the-top geeks and nerds on the planet, and in my own quiet way, I’m an over-the-top geek and nerd. Except I’m not. Going to write about it that is (in spite of being proud to consider myself excessively geeky and nerdy). I’m going to write about my favorite hat shop in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took me about three hours to get overwhelmed and burnt out at Comic-Con. Not so much the noise and crush of the crowds, but the lines. Lines for the panels, lines to talk with authors, lines in order to get a lottery ticket for the right to get in a line to see a panel. I kid you not. All day yesterday I managed to get into one (1!) talk, and that was only because a friend had snagged a couple extra re-entry passes. No, I’m not proud – I’d already waited for an hour and a half at the end of a ~1000 person line in hopes of seeing a panel including Buzz Aldrin, Jim Green (Director of Planetary Sciences), Mike Finke (over a year of accumulated time in orbit, including two days of space walks – eat your heart out, Matt Kowalski) and Bobak Ferdowski (you do know who “mohawk guy” is, right?) talk about the NASA’s vision for the future of space exploration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the panel was moderated by Seth Green, apparently a noted voice actor appearing as a Robot Chicken on the Cartoon Network, and he spent most of the time interrupting Buzz Aldrin and the others to “inject humor” to the discussion. Ahem. Buzz Aldrin. You don’t interrupt one of the 12 humans who have ever walked on another world to “inject humor”. You just don’t.

Anyhow, it was great seeing those guys in person, albeit from a distance, before the crazy mob broke ranks and swallowed them up, but after that, I was pretty done.

Now, the day before, while wandering the Gaslamp District, I’d stumbled across the Goorin Brothers Hat Shop on 5th Avenue. Yeah, a hat shop – not a hat store, a hat shop – tucked in amid the city’s trendiest restaurants and bars seemed a bit improbable, so I had to stop in. Also, you know, because I like hats.

Inside, it was 1895. Approximately. Nathan, wearing a white linen shirt and narrow brim grey fedora, introduced himself, welcomed me to Goorin Bros., and asked if it was my first time there. We chatted a bit, I tried on hats, declined an offer of a drink, and said I needed to come back with my wife. Nathan understood completely.

So today, post-panel crush, after we’d gotten Jeremy fed with sushi and pointed him back in the general direction of the hotel, Devon and I headed back to 5th Avenue. Found a great little restaurant that served Bacon and Jalapeno Mac and Cheese (wow. yum) and other improbable deliciousness, and then it was time for hats.

IMG_20140724_202314468This evening, we arrived at happy hour; there was a young man playing tasteful acoustic guitar in the corner, and Nathan and crew were offering up Jameson and Ginger Ale mixers to those who wanted. Remember, this is a hat shop. We fell in with Eric (whose card reads “Assistant Shopkeeper”), and spent close to an hour with him, learning the fundamental differences between fedoras and porkpies, Ecuadorean vs mass-produced Panama hats while trading stories of our travels and upbringing. We learned that he grew up not far from where we lived in Pittsburgh. And we learned that this building, back in the bad old days, used to be a brothel; the decor and clientele have changed substantially, but the basic architecture remains evident. Oh – and we tried on hats. And more hats.

IMG_20140724_200851Eventually, it was time to get back to the hotel. Jem had called from the room saying he was hungry again (what is it with teenage boys?), and we’d been out on our feet all day. Devon had been steering me toward a summer hat to alternate with my traditional brown waxcloth fedora, and, after a bunch of back-and-forth (crease top or teardrop? narrow or wide brim?) we settled on a winner: a basic medium-brim, teardrop white straw Panama called “The Churchill”. Eric selected a plume from the countertop jar to customize the purchase; we shook hands all around, paid for our purchase, thanked the musician and headed home.

Okay, so the summary here is that I bought a hat, and an inexpensive one, for that matter. But what really happened is that Devon and I had an experience. A lovely, memorable experience. It’s clear that whoever does the hiring at Goorin Bros understands that hats are only the tangible part of what they’re selling. The rest of what they’re selling is that experience: the ambiance, and that human contact with folks like Eric and Nathan (and Nick and the tall, elegant and blue-braided Meow-Meow – forgive me for misspelling your name?) who clearly like people, and are pleased to use hats as a medium for connecting with them. The experience of feeling like a guest, rather than a customer, in a place where the point is sharing stories and experiences rather than just handing over cash for merchandise. Yes, I did buy a fine hat, and I expect it will serve me well for years to come. But the experience? That’s going to last me even a bit longer.

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One response to “Mad Hatters and Happy Hat Shops

  1. Pingback: On a Morning From a Bogart Movie | David Pablo Cohn·

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