Detroit — Paul Wasserman hasn’t sold a hat since August.
But the long-time president of Henry the Hatter expects that will change Friday, when his iconic Detroit shop reopens to the public in a new space in the city’s Eastern Market.
Wasserman announced in July that his former store on Broadway would be closing after 65 years following a dispute over rent that led to the termination of his lease. The last day for business there was Aug. 5.
News of the closure prompted an outpouring of support and options for Wasserman to retain a Detroit location. The company also has operated a store in Southfield since 1992.
“It’s very gratifying to know how much we mean to the people of the city of Detroit,” said Wasserman, 70, Thursday during a media preview in his new space on Riopelle.
“Had it been just for me, I’d have hung it up. I would have been happy to retire, but after hearing the comments and the outpouring of love from the people in Detroit, I knew what I had to do, and I did it.”
Wasserman said he considered several locations but the 1,800 square foot industrial space in Eastern Market was one of the first and “it just felt right.”
He learned at the end of August, the former tenant, 3 Dogs 1 Cat, was not renewing its lease. Wasserman got the keys on Oct. 2 and transformed the space over the last two months.
The walls are lined with wooden showcases, deconstructed from the shop’s Broadway location. The neon sign out front is the original, too.
Photos of the old store’s old hat factory and its former owners adorn the walls of the Hatter’s new space. Prominently displayed is Wasserman’s father, native New Yorker Seymour “Sy” Wasserman,” who bought the business in 1948.
“My dad is the centerpiece of the graphics, looking down approvingly,” Wasserman said. “We wanted to put him in a place where he’s smiling and looking down on everybody.”
Founded in 1893 by Henry Komrofsky, the company says it’s the oldest hat retailer in the United States.
In 1919, Komrofsky formed a partnership with Gustave Newman, who became sole owner following Komrofsky’s death in 1941.
After purchasing the business in 1948, Wasserman’s father relocated the Hatter to Broadway in 1952. Paul Wasserman joined his father in the business two decades later.
Henry the Hatter boasts clientele that includes celebrities such as Kid Rock, Jeff Daniels, Jack White and Steve Harvey.
The store carries a variety of styles and materials including wool, beaver and rabbit fur. Hats range in cost from $49.88 to $600. The most popular, they say, is the $215 Giorgio Cellini Ultra, a center crease fedora.
Manager Joe Renkiewicz joined the company in 1984 and will be Wasserman’s successor once he retires. He’s eager to open the doors Friday and welcome back the shop’s loyal customers.
“We really took to heart what Henry the Hatter in Detroit meant,” he said. “There’s not many of stores of our ilk around anymore.”
Wasserman said with a five-year lease with several renewal options, the store is positioned to remain in Detroit for the next 20 years if it chooses.
“I think of the store as a Detroit institution,” he said. “I don’t think of myself as anybody but the caretaker of this wonderful business.”