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118-Year-Old Hat Maker Finds New Niche in Williamsburg

 Goorin Bros. is a four-generation family business.
Goorin Bros.
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WILLIAMSBURG — They've crafted flat caps, fedoras, cool straw Panama hats and other top-notch head toppers that sold to nationwide boutiques the past 118 years, but Goorin Bros. never opened its own shop until 2005. And now, the four-generation family hat maker is opening its 27th locale in just eight years — smack on Bedford Avenue, in the borough "where the resurgence of wearing hats started."

The classic company — which current owner Ben Goorin's great-grandfather started by selling hats off horse-drawn carts in Pittsburgh in 1895 — is setting up shop at Bedford Avenue and North Seventh Street within the next few weeks, staff said. Goorin said he had long eyed Williamsburg as a perfect spot.

"It feels very genuine to be in a neighborhood where wearing hats is already prevalent," said Goorin, 42, who took over the business in 2005 after working with his parents on hats. "It's already a way there that people express themselves and their personal style."

The boutiques of Goorin Bros. — including two New York shops in Park Slope and the West Village — have thrived from the moment they opened, Goorin said.

His first store opened in San Francisco's North Beach after he researched to ensure the historic styles of his relatives were in each piece.

"I dug into our family archives and looked at what we used to make and where we used to make them and brought that back. Everybody was so excited to have an old-world hat shop," Goorin said. "Neighbors, tourists, and families would come in and say there really weren’t any more hat shops, and old people would remember when there were."

That was just the beginning of Goorin Bros.' retail end — Goorin still plans on opening more New York spots after the Bedford Avenue boutique. Items at the shop will include the flat cap (a fabric hat with "a small bill that's relatively flat on top") and the summery Panama (a woven straw hat).

"I wear hats all the time. A lot of flat caps—like the 'Gatsby'," he said, referring to a "working man's cap" that Irish and English immigrants brought to America in the 1920's. "It's relatively easy to wear."

The accessories, made mainly in American factories on the East Coast, are a chance for Goorin to continue the hard work his relatives started before he was born.

"I have a lot of pride in it," he said.