Thompson owns the store that's been based at 10215 S. Western Ave. in Beverly since 1991. In September, Optimo opened its new retail headquarters Downtown at 51 W. Jackson Blvd. in the Monadnock Building.
Optimo's hats are still made in Beverly. The company's manufacturing operations moved this summer from the combined retail and production storefront on Western Avenue to a former firehouse at 1700 W. 95th St., Thompson said.
But the retail shop has been consolidated to the new 1,400-square-foot storefront Downtown, which replaces a former Byline Bank branch. Optimo opened a satellite store in the same building at 320 S. Dearborn St. in 2012.
"It's really just a case of we outgrew that place [on Western Avenue], and we moved," Thompson said.
Hats line the wall of Optimo's new store at 51 W. Jackson Blvd. The Downtown location replaces a smaller spot nearby at 320 S. Dearborn St. as well as Optimo's former retail and manufacturing headquarters at 10215 S. Western Ave. in Beverly. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
The second floor of Optimo's former Western Avenue location will remain leased to an office user as well as a residential tenant. Thompson met with a high-end cafe owner Tuesday who is interested in the first-floor storefront.
The meeting went well, Thompson said. But if it somehow doesn't work out, he's also interested in an upscale optical shop, a bookstore, a barber shop or another vendor to fill his former shop, he said.
Despite moving Downtown, Thompson said the South Side is never far from his mind. He was trained by Johnny Tyus, who operated a hat shop at 79th Street and Racine Avenue in Auburn Gresham.
Tyus died in 2002, and Thompson saw himself as carrying on his mentor's legacy in Beverly. He made hats using equipment and techniques that date to the turn of the century in the store while also answering phones as well as welcoming walk-in customers.
Optimo has become a go-to brand for Hollywood. Ben Affleck will wear a hat made by the Chicago shop in this upcoming Prohibition-era film "Live by Night," and Michael Shannon will wear an Optimo hat next year in the film "The Shape of Water."
Wooden blocks used to make hats line the southern wall of Optimo's new Downtown retail store at 51 W. Jackson Blvd. Owner Graham Thompson learned to make hats on the South Side at 79th Street and Racine Avenue. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
But before any of that, Thompson simply wanted to serve customers in Chicago, many of whom were on the South Side. The Beverly location was convenient for these hat wearers, but many of them have since died, the hat maker said.
The hat aficionados in Chicago that followed mostly work Downtown, said Thompson, adding that he's yet to schedule a grand opening for either his new retail or manufacturing spots.
"Chicago is the hat capital of the world, no doubt," he said. "And we have not lost clients on the South Side."
That said, roughly 70 percent of Optimo's customers are now found out of state. Those customers also prefer the Downtown shop and could potentially take a ride on the nearby Metra Rock Island District line to check out the manufacturing facility, if they're so inclined.
The firehouse-turned-hat-shop is not yet complete. Thompson is still working on an upstairs design studio and office for Optimo in the building that last housed firefighters in 2008. A new, larger fire station was built on adjacent property.
Once Optimo is finished in Beverly and the Downtown retail spot is fine tuned, Thompson plans to add retail locations across the globe. Immediately, he's interested in checking out potential storefronts in Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, Miami, London and Tokyo.
"This is where we are going to build our retail presence," Thompson said while sitting in his dimly lit store Downtown filled with jazz music and handmade fedoras.
He has no regrets about separating his retail and manufacturing facilities. Optimo currently has ten employees with about half working in production. Felt hats start at $650, and straw hats start at $550.
"We have more clients buying our hats than we've ever had," he said.
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