Fans tip their hats to 'Henry' for last time
It was a last chance to buy a small piece of Detroit’s history. So friends Lauren Couch and Jennifer Jenkins made sure to get downtown to Henry The Hatter early.
The two women were among more than a dozen customers who filled the small shop on the retailer’s last day at its historic Detroit location. By day’s end, the rows of fedoras, panamas and exclusive Borsalino hats would no longer fill the glass shelves.
“This is a Detroit establishment that is highly respected in the community,” said Couch as she tried on a greyish-white and black straw fedora. “This is a monumental moment.”
The Livonia resident said “it’s ridiculous” that Detroit’s celebrated rebirth can’t always include the businesses that stuck around even when the city was struggling.
Jenkins agreed: “You gotta stick by the businesses that stuck by you.”
Henry The Hatter owner Paul Wasserman says customers have been reaching out over the past few weeks with sadness over the closure.
In June, Wasserman announced that the store would be closing its doors at the Broadway location since the building’s owner terminated his lease when he asked for a new lease last March.
According to real estate records, Broadway Associates, which is controlled by the Detroit-based Sterling Group, owns the building that currently houses the shop. Officials for the Sterling Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
The store is closing on what would have been the 101st birthday of Wasserman’s father Seymour, who bought Henry The Hatter from the 65-year-old co-owner, Gus Newman, in 1948. The business originally began in 1893 by Newman and his partner Henry Komrofsky. The businesses has been visited by such celebrities as musician Kid Rock, boxer Jack Dempsey and TV personality Jimmy Kimmel.
Wasserman says the outcry about the store’s closing has been touching.
“I didn’t know what a touchstone we were for the city,” the 70-year-old said Saturday. “People are saying how dare you take our Henry The Hatter from us. It’s very humbling.”
Phil LaDuke was also among the early morning customers at Henry The Hatter. LaDuke, a Allen Park resident, brought along family members to mark the occasion. A hat collector, he bought a blue rabbit fur-felt fedora and a black orchestra hat, which resembled a top hat.
LaDuke said he’s been a customer for nearly four decades, buying hats at the shop since he was 16. He’s also angry that the landlord will not be renewing Wasserman’s lease.
“It’s a reprehensible thing to do,” said LaDuke. “This isn’t gentrification. This is greed. Paul was more than willing to work (with the landlord)”
Wasserman said the last chapter hasn’t been written in the store’s history. He says he is possibly close to a deal that will allow him to get space in the “general” area of the Broadway store.
Willie Wilder, a Southfield resident, scanned the glass shelves Saturday, surveying the stylish hats and recalling the times he shopped at the popular Detroit store for special occasions like Easter and Father’s Day.
Although Wilder shops for hats at the Henry The Hatter Southfield location, he says he will sorely miss the Broadway location because of its sentimental value in his life.
“It’s sad. It’s really sad,” said Wilder. “Big business is buying out the small businesses.”
Most of all, he says, it’s heartbreaking that the city is losing another icon.
“This is our history,” said Wilder. “This is part of Detroit.”