By Rick Garcia
Established in 1893 by Detroit native Henry Komrofsky, Henry the Hatter first opened on Gratiot Ave. As a businessman, Komrofsky was interested in many aspects of city life. He was a member of the Detroit School’s Board of Education, and served as the Boxing Commissioner.
In 1904, Komrofsky hired a young stock & delivery boy named Gustave Newman, and in 1919 the two would run the hat store together as partners. When Komrofsky died in 1941, Newman continued to run the men’s hat store. But by the late 1940’s he was ready to retire and he put the business up for sale.
The buyer was Paul Wasserman’s father Seymour, a native New Yorker who worked in his uncle’s hat factory until he bought his first hat store in New York in 1939. Wasserman’s friend and partner Murray Appleby, a traveling hat salesman, heard that a hat store in Detroit was for sale. The two purchased Henry the Hatter in 1948. Wasserman relocated his family to Detroit, and a few years later, bought out Appleby.
In 1952, the Gratiot Ave. store was demolished and Henry The Hatter moved into the building they currently occupy at 1307 Broadway in Detroit. Paul, who had joined his father in the hat business in 1973, remains as its owner today. In 1998, Seymour Wasserman passed away at the age of 83.
Paul has outfitted Detroit celebs to include, Jeff Daniels, Leon, Ray Liotta, Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie) and national public figures who include Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman John Dingell.
Henry the Hatter received a big boost in the 1950’s when president Dwight D. Eisenhower wore a hat from this store to his inauguration; it was a homburg, rather than the traditional silk top hat, to reflect the need for austerity in the federal government.
When men stopped buying hats in the 1960’s, Henry the Hatter took to repairing and renovating those that their customers already owned. Henry the Hatter was actually a hat factory until 1985.
Some folks try to blame the decline in hat wearing on President John F. Kennedy, who didn’t wear a hat to his inauguration.
But Wasserman reminds us that the times, not the man, created the decline in hat wearing.
In the 1960’s we saw a lot of things changing. The perceived need for headwear as a protection from the elements declined, as the automobile industry flourished, and more people started driving to their destinations. It was no longer necessary to wait outside for a train, bus or streetcar.
The utilitarian role of hats – warmth – is all but gone. But the role of hats in fashion and popular culture remains.
When Indiana Jones and “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” spawned an infatuation with down-turned brim fedoras, Henry the Hatter offered them in every material and price range. And still today, the likes of Kid Rock and Steve Harvey still contact Henry The Hatter for their own hats.
Henry The Hatter has survived because it has embraced its customers and has adapted to their needs. The highly trained salespeople use their fashion sense to assist customers with selections that flatter not only the customers wardrobe, but they also take into account the style of each hat or cap, to accentuate the customers face and other features.
Every hat you buy from Henry The Hatter comes in its own signature hat box, which all clients find this as their mark of excellence.