Don’t let the neon Borsalino logo throw you: this is JJ Hat Center, a humble-but-not-modest boutique carrying a wide range of quality hat brands, in every style and price range, for both men and women.
Just a few blocks downtown from the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue, JJ distinguishes itself as the oldest hat shop in New York City and the heritage is apparent in every detail. The store is narrow and small for the size of its inventory and would be overwhelming without its loyal crew whose average tenure at this very location is somewhere in the decades. And yes, every one of them wears a hat.
I’ve been in this store before but today, the closer I looked, the more I realized how much I wanted one of these things. Between photos I started pointing out specimens, carefully lit behind glass, for inspection. The staff was excited, but patient; I felt that they weren’t trying to sell me a hat so much as find the hat that was truly right for me. An hour later there were half a dozen fedoras in a continuum of color and affectation lining the counter as I stepped back and forth in front of the three-way mirror. “That one looks good on you,” a hatted gentleman offered on his way to the back room.
At last I had found the one, except that it was just a bit too tall for my taste. Not a problem; in the back of the store there is a special hat steamer and all the employees use it well. My new friend fitted the crown precisely to my head and expertly set the creases. At once, this hat was now my hat.
He walked me through the impressive crowd of customers to the cash register by the door, explaining proper care and etiquette while reassuring me that if my hat falls out of shape, I can bring it back in and they’ll fix it up for me, no charge. While his associate rung me up, he fetched a box. I accepted the box but wore my new prize out of the store.
In 2011—the store’s 100th anniversary—the company opened Pork Pie Hatters in the East Village. The following year, another Pork Pie popped up in Williamsburg. These two children likely require some attention themselves. After all, I’ll need a lighter hat for the Spring. Maybe a Borsalino.
What do you think of my new hat? Let me know via email or on Twitter and I’ll see you next week!