Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The End of an Era

Arnold Hatters, one of the ultimate places to shop for hats in New York City, is closing today after decades in business. They used to be where the New York Times Building is now, on Eighth Avenue and 40th Street. The store was large, clean, well-organized and well-lit, with an entranceway flanked by deep windows full of every kind of hat imaginable, from red bowlers to Kangol Caps to elegant Straw Boaters. I have shopped there since the late 1970s when I was a wee shopper in high school, buying top hats for school plays. My Dad, who loves hats, shopped there as a young man right out of the Army when he first came to New York City to live. When the Gray Lady displaced them, they moved a few blocks down 8th Avenue to 36th street, to a slightly smaller but similar type of store. The Rubin Brothers have been running it, and I always asked for Mark Rubin when I needed a hat STAT, like the lovely black bowler we needed only a month ago for a Mastercard commercial. My best purchase was this fedora, as seen on Dominic Chianese in the film "The Last New Yorker.

Here's a lovely little blog entry I found about the shop, dating from 2007.

I blame the New York Times for this turn of events. If they hadn't chosen 40th street between 7th and 8th to build their new tower, a number of fabric stores and now a hat store might still be in business today. That street used to be THE stop for fabric - one little family-owned shop after another, interspersed with a button, trim or lace shop in between for variety. Some of those shops have re-located, like B & J Fabrics and Rosen and Chadick, but most have not and are lost to time. The only notable one remaining is Elegant Fabrics, though Paron may still be open - it's been awhile since I had to shop for fabric since I started working almost exclusively in commercials and styling, and I usually go to B & J for my one-stop shopping needs these days.

I spoke to Mark Rubin, the owner, this afternoon, and he was understandably very downcast about this turn of events. The family-run business tried to negotiate with the landlord, but like most, said landlord was greedy and wanted to be able to charge an additional $10,000 a month to whoever can pay it - as if we need another Starbucks, bank, or whoever else can afford such high rents in midtown. There aren't as many people buying hats these days as they're not up there on the list of priorities with rent, food, gasoline - and the film and theatre community is not what it was. Broadway shows are closing, there are fewer film and TV projects around town, and that means fewer purchases. Mark said that 80% of his business was regular folks, but 20% was theatrical, and that's a big chunk. I walk the city and in every neighborhood I see empty storefronts, which will remain empty, as their greedy owners refuse to negotiate with longtime tenants, preferring to take their chances on a new renter who can (?) afford impossibly high rents. More often than not, the spaces stay empty. On the Upper East Side, on Madison Avenue, there are so many vacant shops, unrented for months.

It was always a pleasure to look in the window at Arnold Hatters and imagine a situation where a hat might be needed - a newsboy cap, panama, whatever caught your eye. I loved the colorful bowlers on green, turquoise, yellow, white - how festive! Sadly, I deleted some recent pictures taken at the shop that showed the windows, but here are a few snazzy Kangol caps that we were considering for a recent project:

There are a few other hatters around, but Arnold was always my first choice. The prices were friendly, as were the staff, and there was a great feeling of tradition there that I found comforting. There was another gorgeous hatter on Madison for many years, Worth & Worth, where I bought a number of exquisite and stylish hats for leading men on Broadway when I was a shopper for Vincent Costumes, a theatrical tailor. This seems to be the same concern, but as I haven't been there, I can't say for sure.

In other sad news, Odds Costumes is closing on July 1st. Check out this blog, Frocktalk, for a lament. They are selling everything off, so if you're in NYC take note. Designers only until June 1, then it's open to the public. Some of my opera costumes are/were there, and it was lovely to visit them from time to time. I have no room to store them, so hopefully, they will go to a good home somewhere.

Odds Costume Rentals
231 W. 29th St.
Third Fl.
New York , NY 10001
Phone: (212) 268-6227

I don't know what we designers and stylists will do now without them. You'd think that in New York City there would be many places to rent costumes, but there aren't. High rents have forced everyone out, and the fewer productions there are in the city, the harder it is for places like this to survive. It's a serious situation, and the Governor has not offered the tax credits that we once had for filmmakers to shoot here with incentive. Time will tell how many films and TV series commit to shooting here over the year.


Anonymous said...

wow, that stinks. I love hats and can never have too many. Even if I am very picky.

In general, gentrification needs to be managed somehow. I just don't know the right means, how to balance the rights of the property owners with the rights of the neighbors. Much of what has made New York, New York is moving away. The flower district is another example. A set designer's example.

I like to embrace change, but sometimes it is a struggle.

Then again. I miss the hookers, drug dealers and cops on 42nd Street. I felt safer around those folks than the Iowa tourists and their strollers.

OvertheTop said...

Yes, the flower district - what a loss, though there are a few sellers left. It was always such a treat to walk down 28th street and get away from the concrete in such a fun way.

I grew up here and remember being afraid of walking down 42nd - but then, I hated walking up 8th avenue from the upper 30s through the 40s, stepping over junkies. The idea of the Manhattan Plaza as a residence for theatrical types in that no-man's land where most people were afraid to walk, let alone live, seems so quaint now, and the artists can hardly afford the neighborhood these days. It's unrecognizable. Amsterdam Avenue was also a no-walk zone as recently as the early 1980s. Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I don't get enough of those! I like your own blog very much.