Boro Park Snapshot: Sanders Hatters
If the hat makes the man, then Sanders Hatters makes a prince.
From his store on 14th Ave., with its chiseled oak stands and piled high with brown hat boxes, Nochum Sanders has been quietly changing how chassidishe consumers look and feel their headgear. The first to fit hats to heads rather than just two or three one-size-fits-all hats, he has been following in the tradition of his father-in-law — the proprietor of the iconic Krausz Hatters.
“It’s basically a family trade,” said Mr. Sanders, a soft spoken man with a quite smile.
The name Krauss is a legend in the chassidishe hat world. Mr. Sanders opened the first Krausz hat store in Boro Park in 1997, he told boropark24.com’s Heshy Rubinstein in an interview, a machine loudly airbrushing a hat in the background. He moved to his current location at 4106 14th Ave. four years later.
“My father-in-law, Reb Shia Krausz, was the first one to come out with the high stiff hats and shape them according to the demands of each kehilla,” Mr. Sanders said. “Prior to that, there was only Selco which would buy from Czechoslovakia but they only made soft hats.”
The family’s debut into the hat business began in Hungary, in 1939. In their small village of Semihai, the elder Rabbi Krausz would stiffen each hat individually and work alongside his son, Reb Shia Krausz. The family trade transferred across the ocean after the war and the Krausz logo once again adorned Jewish heads, this time in Williamsburg and Monsey rather than Budapest and Kluj. They also have branches in London and Eretz Yisroel.
Krausz was the first hat store in Williamsburg, and have largely been the trend setter in how Satmar wears their flat wide brims, Bobov their tall furry hats, Vizhnitz their bow up front hats and everything else in between.
Mr. Sanders struck out on his own a quarter century ago, in 1993, and now has his own branches in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Monroe. He also has someone selling his hats in Eretz Yisroel, London and Monsey.
Production was traditionally done in his store in Boro Park. When the minimum wage law raised wages to $15 an hour, he moved his factory to South America. That enabled him to avoid raising prices.
Crafting the hat to your head is more of an art than the man garbed in it may realize. Sanders claims to be the one who introduced specialized fittings for hats, similar to how shoes are fitted.
“Before I came into the industry there were just two fits — regular and oval,” he said. “I realized that there was a need for more shapes. Some heads are more round, some are oval, and some are extra oval. I made special block molds for all these sizes. Fitting the hat to the shape of the head is one of my specialties. Altogether, we’re talking about 900 sizes.”
Mr. Sanders has his unique design and styles. Manufacturing is done in China, with its cheap labor pool, so he makes regular visits to the Asian country so Boro Park residents can stand tall with their headgear.
“After I found out what the demand of my customers were,” Mr. Sanders explained, “I began developing my own hats, with new shapes, new brims.”
There are hats that may look different, Mr. Sanders noted, but are actually the same with a twist. Rebbishe families, for example, have a typical high fur hat, just they tend to have wider brims. Some people prefer a curved dome while others request a flatter top. Bobov has a flat peak and an average brim, Pupa has a narrower brim while Klausenburg has the narrowest. Skver used to have a narrow brim but they’ve broadened it over the years. Vizhnitz, according to folklore, used to have their ribbons straight. But one of the rebbes noticed that the local non-Jews had it that way so he turned it upside down.
The coronavirus affected the hat industry badly, Mr. Sanders said.
“People were home and no one had to show off,” he said with a laugh. “Even for yom tov, customers weren’t buying.”
Mr. Sanders is also a member of Hatzolah, and could sometimes rush out in middle of serving someone.
“I just had a call an hour ago of a child who was choking,” he recounted. “I told the customer I was serving, ‘I’m sorry but this is an emergency.’ And they understand.”
His message to the Boro Park community is succinct: “Come in and we’ll serve you the best. Our factory in South America has the slogan, ‘perfect is our habit.’”