01 June 2009

Take Off Your Hats: Arnold Hatters Closes

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:


Jeremiah Moss said...

very sad news indeed. thanks for the link. i have a handful of shots of the original shop across from port authority. you can find them on my flickr page here:


Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks. I'm so depressed by this, I can barely type.

Unknown said...

We have lost yet another of New York's unique treasures...a place where you could transform yourself and just play dress up for 1/2 hour. I miss them already.

ian finkel said...

I went today to purchase some hats at my favorite store:Arnold Hatters and alas it was gone. I am completely devastated. This was a beautiful place and the the fine family that ran it were great pals.My Dad and I wish them all the best. IAN FINKEL

Upstate Johnny Gee said...

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh......crap. I only just discovered Arnold Hatters less than a year ago. It was a cold rainy day. I was with a filmaker buddy of mine, Raul Barcelona, creator of "Promise of New York" (www.promiseofnewyork.com), trying to get from Florent's all the way up to the UES as quickly as our little feet could carry us. That being the case I didn't have time to stop in and shop at Arnold's. Sigh. Now I'll never be able to. Double sigh. Except for the fact that I've already had my ration of scotch for the night, I'd have a double now. But I'll save it for Friday afternoon at Bemelman's at the Carlyle.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Upstate Johnny Gee, I like your sentiments. You always post incisive, heartfelt comments. We should meet someday.

Eve said...

Does anyone have a forwarding phone number for Arnold or Peter Rubin?
They have several of my hats and I would like to get them back. Eve on behalf Rabbi Benjamin Levene from Israel

Unknown said...

Wow, talk about a blow to the heart! Arnold Hatters was truly an institution to the film/music industry and New York as a whole. I remember going in just to hang - it's not like it was the type of place where u felt obligated to buy or else..plus, Mark and Peter were always so hip and likeable..man, this hurts. All the best to the Rubin's - Anthony Fiore (Brooklyn)


Unknown said...

Very sad news for me as almost all of my around 30 hats have came from Mark and his family. Mark himself helped me select and fit my first derby. Is there any way to contact these guys my wife was going to get me a trapper hat for Christmas, where to go now Arnold Hatters was all I knew of and I'm coming from Maryland. :(

Brooks of Sheffield said...

O: I recommend JJ Hat Center on Fifth Avenue near the Empire State, or Worth and Worth hatters on 57th Street near Sixth.

Ellen Christine Couture said...

One of their customers came into my millinery shop today and told me they had re-opened.....does anyone know if this is true?

Anonymous said...

So sorry top hear about this great shop that is now closed. The selection and service were remarkable. I will treasure my hats that I have acquired over the years from Arnold.

DO NOT GO TO JJ HAT CENTER. They are a tourist trap as they are located by the Empire State Building and are much more expensive than other stores for the exact same hat.