New Orleans, being a city that honors old traditions, has a huge hat emporium (well, huge by hat store standards) on St. Charles Street off Canal. It's called Meyer the Hatter and is about the most impressive edifice dedicated to haberdashery that I've ever seen. Though the shop is limited to the ground floor, the entire, four-story facade of the building is blanketing by the store's sign. Glimpsed from across the street, Meyer seems some mercantile giant.
The store was founded in 1894 and advertises itself as the "largest hat store in the south." While shopping inside, however, Sam Meyer II himself corrected that slogan, saying "the only hat store in the south." Sam is the third generation of four Meyer generations that have worked that store. It has never fallen out of family hands. He said he sells 2,000 hats a month, many of which lids he designs himself (though he does not manufacture them). Folks travel from all around, and phone orders come in from overseas.
Sam's an irrascable guy, but I'm proud to say he personally helped me find the hat I purchased at Meyer. I kept having to apologize for various stupid things I said about hats and the hat business. He barked and grumbled and complained, but he did his job, fetching me at least a dozen different hats before I finally settled on a Stetson Panama called the "Soho"—a new model just arrived, he told me, and the last he had in stock. It had a soft, flexible frame that was far more comfortable on my head that the stiff straw hats that are the norm.
"They can make 'em like this if they want to," Sam said. "They don't have to make them hard. I don't like 'em hard. I don't ask for 'em hard. Look at this." He knocked the brim of a stiff straw hat. "It's like like a rock."