Getting the week off to a gloomy start is JVNY's absolutely abysmal news that Arnold Hatters, one of the oldest and last remaining haberdasheries left in the city, has closed its doors for good, after 83 years.
Arnold Hatters was a personal favorite of mine among the old-time businesses in New York, partly because I am a hat-wearer myself and frequent such places at JJ Hat Center and Worth & Worth on a fairly steady basis. I've spoken to Arnold Rubin, and his sons Mark and Paul Rubin, on many occasions. All very nice, salt-of-the-earth people.
In retrospect, the shop's fate was sealed when they were forced to move from their longtime perch on Eighth Avenue across from Port Authority. The block was seized for the New York Times' new tower, and the Rubins were sent packing. They landed in a far-less-visible storefront further down Eighth, near 37th. The Rubins were philosophical about the hand of cards dealt them, but were also fairly vocal about their anger against the Paper of Record. As Mark told JVNY: "I'm positive if I was still in the old location, I'd be weathering this economy. Instead, with three kids and a mortgage, I'm writing the first resume of my life."
The economy also, of course, played a big role in the store's demise. Not only were people not buying hats, but the theatre was experiencing a downturn. You see, Arnold Hatters stayed in business all these years because it was near the Theatre District and was the first choice of costume designers. Costumers would go there for fedoras ("Guys and Dolls"), straw boaters ("The Music Man"), top hats (anything by Gershwin), Trilbies, derbies—all those hats people wore in the past but don't any longer. But business hasn't been so great on Broadway since last fall. A lot of shows closes in January, and others that were due on Broadway were canceled.
Some history. Arnold Hatters was always a family business. It was founded in 1926 by Mark Rubin's great uncle, Irving Garten. He opened his first store in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and soon after opened additional stores in Manhattan. Garten got out of the business when Prohibition ended, and he learned he could make more money selling booze than hat. He gave the hat business to his brother-in-law Sidney Jacobson. Sidney opened more stores, eventually moving the whole business to Midtown. There was once a store right on the corner of 42nd and Seventh Avenue.
Arnold Rubin didn't intend to sell hats all his life. He went into ship repair and worked for the Navy. But in the early '70s, he went to work for Uncle Sidney. The Eighth Avenue store opened in 1960. In 1990, it, too, almost disappeared when Sidney decided to throw in the towel. But Arnold gathered some loans and credit and reopened the Eighth Avenue store.
For most of its life, the store had a sign over it that said, not Arnold Hatters, but Knox Hats. Explanation: Uncle Sidney had a deal with Knox Hats, once a hat manufacturing concern, to stock a certain percentage of hats from the company. In exchange, Knox paid part of the rent. The arrangement was common at one time, resulting in Stetson stores, Dobbs stores, etc. The Rubins never changed the sign over the years, because they didn't want to confuse customers.
For a pictorial stroll through the old store, look here. I've looked all over the damn web for a picture of the old store near Port Authority, but can't find one. I used to have a bunch of old type photographs of it, but nothing digital.
Here's a picture of Mark and Arnold Rubin taken when they were still at the old store: