America’s oldest retail hat store turns 130: The history of Detroit’s Henry the Hatter

Henry the Hatter has been selling hats since 1893

Henry the Hatter grand opening 1985 on Joe Campau (Henry the Hatter)

DETROIT – The oldest retail hat store in the nation is celebrating its 130-year birthday, and it’s in our own backyard.

Henry the Hatter has been serving Detroiters since 1893, providing a wide selection of hats and caps. The retail store, which is now located in Eastern Market, has survived everything from the Great Depression, to the Great Recession, the 1967 Detroit riot and two pandemics since it opened.

Henry Komrofsky of Detroit opened Henry the Hatter on Gratiot Avenue in 1893. According to the Henry the Hatter website, Komrofsky worked as a hatter at the John C. Harz store before opening his own retail shop. The Detroit native hired a stock and delivery boy named Gustave Newman in 1904, and by 1919 the two men became business partners.

The business eventually moved to the Library Park Hotel Building at Gratiot Avenue and Library Street. The hat retail company then expanded in 1923 with a location on Michigan Avenue.

By the late ‘40s, Henry the Hatter was put up for sale -- and Seymour Wasserman, a man from New York, purchased the company in 1948. Wasserman had experience in the hat industry, as he worked for his uncle’s hat factory, which led him to purchase his first hat store in New York 10 years before he purchased Henry the Hatter.

The Gratiot Avenue store was eventually demolished, and Henry the Hatter had to move once again. In 1952, the retail store moved to a space on Broadway Street in Detroit. Nearly a decade later, the second location of Henry the Hatter on Michigan Avenue closed down. The store had a second storefront again, but opened in another location. Five years later, the second Detroit location closed down for good. There is still currently a second location for the hat company in Southfield.

During the 1950s, Henry the Hatter claimed they received a big boos since former President Dwight Eisenhower wore a hat from the Detroit company during his inauguration. Eisenhower wore a Homburg, breaking the tradition of wearing a top hat. The Homburg is known as a semi-formal hat with a single dent running down the center.

“Some folks try to blame the decline in hat-wearing on President John F. Kennedy, who didn’t wear a hat to his inauguration in the early ‘60s. But Wasserman reminds us that the times, not the man, created the decline in hat-wearing,” the company wrote on its website.

While the company has had its fair share of moving, after 65 years, the company moved again during the summer of 2017. Henry the Hatter opened their newest and latest location in Eastern Market during the winter of 2017.

“Over the past 124 years, as trends, culture and the economy evolved, we did too. I’m sad to see this era end, but it was a business decision I did not make,” Wasserman told Local 4 in 2017.

The Wasserman family still owns the company. Seymour’s son Paul, 70, has been running the company since his father retired in the early 1970s. They also have a location on West 10 Mile Road in Southfield, which is 16 miles from Downtown Detroit.

Henry the Hatter has been recognized over the years for their longevity and uniqueness as a company. A plaque was issued to them by the Historical Society of Michigan for being in service for more than 100 years.

Below are some images from Henry the Hatter that showcases the business’ century-long history:

George Jessel and Gus Newman, 1927 (Henry The Hatter)
Old store exterior shot 1893 (Henry The Hatter)
Henry The Hatter 1944 anniversary ad (Henry The Hatter)
Henry the Hatter Broadway store in the early 1970s (Henry the Hatter)
Henry The Hatter 100th Anniversary (Henry The Hatter)
Henry The Hatter -- Eastern Market Grand Opening Dec. 8 , 2017 (Henry The Hatter)

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