The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Old Firehouse in Beverly to Get Second Life as Optimo Fine Hats HQ

By Howard Ludwig | September 17, 2013 9:49am
 Graham Thompson, owner of Optimo Fine Hats, said he will move production to the empty firehouse at 1700 W. 95th St.
Beverly firehouse's next life
View Full Caption

BEVERLY —  The shuttered firehouse on 95th Street in the Beverly neighborhood would have made an ideal new home for the Ghostbusters, who famously transformed a New York firehouse into their ghost-fighting HQ.

They're not coming, but there will be a second life for the old firehouse: It's expected to be the new home of Optimo Fine Hats, a Chicago-based high-end hatmaker with Hollywood appeal.

Optimo's hats are favored by movie star Johnny Depp and have been used in movies such as "J. Edgar," "Public Enemies" and "Road to Perdition." The shop’s latest Hollywood hat will be atop Tom Hanks as he plays Walt Disney in an upcoming biopic. Bluesman Buddy Guy is also a customer.

If all goes well, the popular hats soon will be made inside the firehouse at 1700 W. 95th St. The building will serve as Optimo's production facility and corporate headquarters after an overhaul.

The hatmaker will continue to operate its sales office at 10215 S. Western Ave. on the Southwest Side. Optimo also has a Downtown storefront at 320 S. Dearborn St., owner Graham Thompson said.

“This is going to be our workshop. I can’t wait. It’s going to be the ultimate,” Thompson said while touring the aged firehouse last week.

The City Council is expected to approve the deal next month. The firehouse closed in 2008 after a new, larger fire station was built on adjacent property. The original building dates back to 1915, said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th).

Optimo bought the roughly 10,000-square-foot firehouse for $1. The building has been stripped of all usable plumbing and electrical wiring. The sale price is contingent on bringing the once-grand firehouse back to its original luster, Thompson said.

A hat aficionado, Thompson opened Optimo on Western Avenue in 1991. His store is a throwback to classic hat-making. Fedoras, pork pies, top hats and other styles are all made by hand. Felt hats start at $650. Straw hats start at $450, he said.

Of Optimo's Hollywood connections, Thompson said: "We are not really costumers. But if movies want some serious hats, we can do it."

Roughly 40 percent of Optimo’s business comes from the Chicago area. The remaining sales stem from out of state and even out of the country. Optimo has seven employees and hopes to add five more when the new production facility is complete, Thompson said.

“Hats are getting more and more popular, and people are more appreciative of well-made things,” he said.

The first floor of the firehouse will be dedicated to old-school hat-making. Most of Optimo’s equipment dates to the turn of the century. Thompson has plucked these antiques from around the globe. One machine goes back to 1899. It’s so heavy that it bent the winch when it was moved to Beverly, Thompson said.

The basement of the firehouse will be used for storage, while the second floor will house the corporate office. Construction is expected to start next month. The winter will be dedicated to a costly renovation that aims to maintain many of the structure’s finer points, including intricate handrails and detailed moldings.

“We want to stop all deterioration of the building. That’s priority No. 1,” Thompson said.

Hats will not be sold at the firehouse. They'll still be sold at Optimo's flagship store on Western Avenue and Downtown.

The new space will quadruple Optimo’s hat-making capacity, which could pave the way for more stores. Still, Thompson said he has no intentions of operating a hat factory, as each hat will continue to be handmade and personalized for individual customers.

“A hat should suit your personality,” Thompson said.