Streetcar: Meyer the Hatter
Life on Top
Several years ago, my wardrobe for spending an afternoon at the French Quarter Fest included a spiffy new Panama hat. Somewhere along the riverfront a fellow fest-goer stopped me and said, “nice hat.” With local pride I replied, “I got it at Meyer the Hatter’s.” “I know,” the man answered, “I am Meyer.”
He sure was. In an age when small businesses have disappeared as though flooded by the Amazon, Meyer the Hatter’s store has survived. So too has Sam Meyer.
There are two things that the shop, located at 120 St. Charles Ave., right off of Canal Street, has plenty of; one is hats. They are all over: In the display windows, on the counters, on shelves, behind the counters, on peoples’ heads and stored in two upstairs floors.
And the other plentiful fixture is people named Meyer. They, too, are everywhere; brothers, sons, a wife, a daughter-in-law, cousins, whatever. Sam Meyer himself is third generation, having followed behind his grandfather, Sam H. Meyer, who founded the store in 1894, and Sam’s father, Andrew, who started selling hats there in the 1920s. Sam II tossed his hat into the ring, so to speak, in the 1940s. He and his late brother William brought the store into the future, including moving to the current location. It takes lots of room to claim the title “The South’s Largest Hat Store.”
I have a special fondness for the block, more so for what it was than what it is. In the days when the downtown workforce was practically all males, this was the most masculine of blocks. There was the hatter plus Pokorny’s men’s shoes, Rubenstein’s Men’s Clothes and a men’s luncheon club. Across the street was Kolb’s serving those heavy masculine German foods, and then there was The Pearl, an oyster spot whose fare included the very masculine past-time of downing a “dozen raws” on the half-shell. Meyer adapted his inventory to serve needs of all types, such as those white caps that jazz musicians wear, or top hats for the ball.
I was there to cash in on a gift certificate. My selection was a gray, felt hat, with a clump of feathers stuck in the hatband on the left side. The wide brim gave the hat an Australian look, though without the prerequisite to fight a crocodile. Inside was a white card with the totally classic Meyer message: “Like hell it’s yours. This hat belongs to ______. But you can get one like it from Meyer the Hatter.” Thusly are hat thieves scared away.
Meyer himself was wearing a red hat while he worked the floor. Keeping up with modern times he gave me a koozie displaying the store’s latest slogan, “Love your Hattitude.” A customer had suggested it to him. One with hattitude.
Now I digress for a finale with a sad ending. Back to the Panama hat that the hatter had spotted me wearing. I like trains, and later that year we took a trip to Chicago and back. On the last leg of the ride as the train approached New Orleans, and I was packing, I could not find the hat. The sleeper rooms are so small that it is hard to lose anything, but there was no hat. I asked the attendant if maybe he had placed it somewhere. He hadn’t. Just to be sure though, he pulled down the overhead bunk, which is pushed up to ceiling level during the day. There it was. The attendant had not noticed the hat on the bed. Now it was a smashed disc of straw.
Life continues; the trains keep rolling. There was some irony though that the hat met its demise on a train called The Panama Limited.