“I don’t think it was supposed to be a long term thing,” says Abe Cortez, Owner of Paris Hatters. “But it just went and went and went.” It’s unlikely that Abe’s father and uncle, who founded the business in 1917, could have imagined a simple hat repair shop lasting over a hundred years.
“It was difficult back then, everything was hand to mouth.” He explains. But Abe’s father, Abe Sr., built the business up, eventually fitting hats for three U.S. Presidents. Paris Hatters’ clientele has included some of the most prominent figures in the world over the years, a popularity that Abe attributes to the quality of the products and word of mouth.
“You can get a hat anywhere,” says Abe, “But if you want to get fitted, if you want a quality product, you’re gonna find it when you come here.” Paris Hatters offers many kinds of hats, belts and boots. They are the number one Stetson dealer in the U.S. and carry the prestigious Luchesse Boot line.
In fact, Luchesse Boots were made right above Paris Hatters from the 60s to the 80s. A “family” of companies relocated to that part of downtown from what would become the Hemisfair neighborhood as preparations were underway for the 1968 World’s Fair. Included in that group were the Alamo Piano Company, the first Church’s Chicken, the first Don and Ben’s Liquor, Luchesse Boots, and of course Paris Hatters.
The relocation didn’t slow things down at all according to Abe: “It was a really good move because Downtown’s on fire. I mean it’s booming.” Abe says he wishes his father were alive now, as he considers this to be the biggest the business has ever been.
Paris Hatters sales thousands of Stetson Hats every year in downtown San Antonio. This year, Paris Hatters celebrates it's 100th year in retail in Downtown San Antonio. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Abe keeps a wall of pictures and newspaper clippings of the store’s accolades and famous patrons. He comments on several of the recognizable faces. “Tommy Lee Jones. If he does a movie, more than likely it’s in one of my hats.” There are pictures documenting customers from Pope John Paul II to Shaquille O'Neal. He points to an iconic shot of a figure with a guitar and cowboy hat with Paris Hatters in the background. “Dwight Yoakam, he comes in probably four times a year.”
Abe recalls a recent experience with singer-songwriter Michael McDonald. The artist purchased a hat and invited Abe and his wife, Myrna, to his concert at the Tobin Center. While on stage, he placed the hat on the piano and talked a bit about his stop at Paris Hatters and thanked Abe and Myrna. “That was great.” Abe smiles.
Paris Hatters owner Abe Cortez covers a wall with photos of celebrities who have purchased hats at his store. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
For a store known for its famous faces, it’s always been about the relationships. As Abe puts it: “People are what moves the business.”
““If you’re going to be in business for yourself, you need to eat and breathe that business. You can’t be
Things are going well for Paris Hatters, which celebrates its centennial this year. You wouldn’t guess it talking to Abe. For him, it’s business as usual. “To us it’s just another year.” What makes the store so successful, according to him, are the family ties. “It’s in my family’s blood. We eat and live this business.”
Abe’s daughter, Alexandra, will be the fourth generation to operate Paris Hatters, which makes him optimistic about the future. “This is going to go another hundred years hopefully.”
There are two hats in the store enclosed in glass cases, sitting above the wall of achievements. According to Abe, they are the only ones that have stood out amid the thousands that pass through the doors every year. “Those are the last two hats that my dad wore.”
A portrait of Abe and his father hangs above a door and next to the last two hats his father wore. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Abe Sr. passed away in 1992, but not before providing a hat to a Pope and fitting three U.S. Presidents. He had moved to the city from a ranch in Shiner, Texas to help his brother with a simple hat repair shop. Today, it is a San Antonio icon and known all over the world.
“We’ve been here so long, we’re one of the oldest businesses Downtown.” Says Abe. He has advice for all the young startups and companies moving into Downtown: “If you’re going to be in business for yourself, you need to eat and breathe that business. You can’t be an absentee.”
That’s why Abe is nearly always at the store, and why our visit came to an end when he saw a customer enter. He left with a sincere, “Thank you so much for stopping by.”