Thompson Street fixture The Hat Shop will move within Soho Village

In 2016,  Thompson, Sullivan and Macdougal Streets between Houston and Watts officially became the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, similarly designated by Landmarks Preservation Commission as selected areas in  Greenwich Village and the East Village. 

These particular blocks are in Soho, south of Houston,  but architecturally they are really an extension of the streets just north in Greenwich Village.  The neighborhood could be called the South Village, with narrow shops tucked into old-style tenements.  Some people call these few blocks Soho Village—quite different from the buildings of the Soho—Cast Iron  Loft Historic District. 

On Thompson Street just south of Prince, an array of summery straw hats, most designed to keep off the sun, fill the display window of The Hat Shop. 

There’s a brimmed formal straw hat, an informal medium brim cowboy fedora, a men’s boater with a striped ribbon and a men’s—Winston Churchill style—Homburg.   Touting more stately women’s styles,  in the window is a minimal cocktail hat with vintage trim and a very formal silhouette hat with trim.

Inside the shop, there are so many more styles—classic,  wide brims ala Audrey Hepburn, Panamas, a top hat, asymmetric wide brims, an Asian-inspired pagoda, a wider brim  Breton boater.  Toward the rear of the narrow store are winter non-straw styles,  most made from rabbit fur felt.  

This 27-year-old hat-Mecca is the passion of Linda Pagan—she and the shop are a fixture in the neighborhood.  On August 31, five mariachis— sombreros and all—will gather at 7 p.m., there at 120 Thompson to mark a transition.  The Hat Shop is moving,  but, not far.

This spring, the landlord refused to renew Pagan’s lease.  His plans are to alter the stores, knocking down walls to combine three intimate spaces into one. This news was traumatic for Pagan, who has made this her commercial home for almost three decades,  and a shock to clients and neighbors.   Once the word got out that  Pagan was looking to relocate,  however, neighborhood property owners came to her. She found a new home, just two blocks away and staying in her beloved Soho Village. 

The (wintery) felt hats are in the back. They’ll move their way to the front as the seasons change.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Neighbors, friends and clients will parade, the mariachis leading the move, to the new location at 148 Sullivan. For Pagan,  it recalls the St. Anthony feast procession that takes place on the same streets. For others, it’s like a Torah transfer from one sanctuary to another.  

Hailing from the north of England, Pagan left a 10-year stint in reinsurance to bartend.  As much as she loved working at a neighborhood bar, after five years she began to take stock. Between second-hand smoke and “is this what I want to be doing the rest of my life”, she made a list of things that made her happy and where there might be an opportunity of a niche to fill. “I’ve always loved hats and I wear hats,”  she says. Hats were it.

“People were wearing a lot of baseball hats in the bar,” she recalls, “I thought maybe they’d want to wear something nicer.”  She researched for about two years before she ventured forth with Thompson Street’s The Hat Shop.  She was 36.

Over the course of these 27 years, Pagan has become quite an expert on head and face shapes, individual styles, and occasion suitability as well as hat materials and history and famous historical persons or celebs wearing particular styles. Eight years of hanging out with milliners were her education. 

“I look at a person’s face, their cheekbones, the shape of their head (and she measures it),”  she says. With religious fervor, she talks about hats. “The only criteria for wearing a hat is confidence. It’s my job to find you the hat that makes you confident.” 

Pagan has lots of confidence.  Long-necked, 5’8”, Pagan is a perfect model for her own preferred wide-brimmed hats. She doesn’t shy from engaging colors accenting or matching her outfits.  The ‘hood —outside the shop, on the sidewalk, in the road, or at a nearby metal decorative stoop with an iron railing—becomes her backdrop, a perfect urban setting for photo opps that she posts on social media. Spotted in the neighborhood, she was photographed and included in an edition of The Humans of New York.    

Just two blocks away, The Hat Shop keeps its locale in Soho Village, moving to Sullivan Street.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Who buys hats?   

Basically, people wear hats for practical reasons— to keep the sun off their head and face, to protect their head due to hair loss,  or to keep their head warm. Conversely, hats can be a  form of personal expression—classic and traditional or caprice and whimsy and everything in between.  

When it comes to forms of expression where are hats worn?  The events calling for hats roll off this shop-keep’s tongue:  all those occasions—college graduations, weddings, christenings, and luncheons.  Pagan cites the Central Park Conservancy’s  1000-attendee benefit luncheon.

Then there are the races—Triple Crown: Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, where a hat is a must, and the Saratoga races.  Don’t forget the polo matches in the Hamptons.  

On the storefront window, there is a notice, which declares—Made in NY.  The Hat Shop designs 60% of  it’s styles, made in studios in the Lower East Side or Hudson, NY. 

“My forte is selling not fabrication,” says Pagan.  Plus, she has a cache of local milliners from whom she sources hats.  Years back, Pagan started a milliners guild to protect the artisans from people trying to short-change them.   

Pagan has always been about the block(s), the street, and neighborhood. Inspired by the iconic 1976 New Yorker Saul Steinberg cover New York View from 9th Ave, Hudson River,  her friend Jessie Levey designed an oversized postcard of Thompson Street —shops and landmarks.

Pagan’s been president of Thompson Street Business Association, who helped bring business back after 911. 

And, dealing with the pandemic challenges,  she helped found  Save Our Storefronts (SOS), a coalition of small businesses from throughout the state that mobilized with the goal of securing through legislative means assistance with the rent debt accrued during the pandemic.

(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

In 2021 Village Preservation recognized her as milliner, entrepreneur, organizer, and tireless promoter of small businesses and the history and character of her neighborhood.

But this hat lady is not just about hats. Discreetly displayed in her storefront window is a basket of multi-colored  Kenyan bracelets.  Six years of independent travel in Kenya included visiting the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe.  An encounter with a customer led to a support partnership for the Thorne Tree project that helps fund schools— monies for books, building dorms, salaries for teachers for this nomadic tribe.  Many a fundraiser has taken place in the shop.  

This past Sunday afternoon, a group of four would-be customers clamored outside the closed shop. Pagan still inside, sporting a summer cold, had closed early. They beseeched, they were from London, they read that closing was at 6pm. All masked, she let them in. 

As members of the party perused her selections, a fellow among them knew what he wanted. She measured his head to insure a proper fit for the Panama he selected. With the hat, boxed for travel, he left, happily. Meanwhile, Alysa Robin, a fan of the shop,  picked up a hat, the second identical one for her after her off-to-college daughter kidnapped the first one. Over the years, Robin has purchased five hats from The Hat Shop. Clearly, tourists, first-timers, and regulars stop by.

Pagan vows that Thompson Street will always be her first love,  “But now it’s time to make new adventures on Sullivan Street.  Lucky me that I am still in my beloved Village.”

Celebrating the shop’s move on Aug. 31, the meet-up starts at 120 Thompson at 7pm and the mariachis will play on.