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Entering a business that has become a staple of Albuquerque’s Downtown for 75 years, one cannot help but feel a little nostalgic. “We’ve been here through all of it, the ups and the downs,” says Stuart Dunlap, owner of The Man’s Hat Shop, while hand creasing a straw hat for a waiting customer. The business seems almost a little out of place now among the cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs—a far cry from 1946 when The Man’s Hat Shop first opened its doors. “Back then, everyone wore hats,” says Dunlap. “Downtown Albuquerque was bustling, and Route 66 was busy busy busy. There were probably 15 hatters at that time.”
Having been in their current location since 1964, The Man’s Hat Shop was first opened by Carl Dunlap after returning from WWII. Initially started as a cleaning business, Dunlap’s business expand to its known location on Central Ave. and grew to include retail sales that features over 5,000 hats and styles. Just like any other retail business, however, The Man’s Hat Shop faced hardships during the state’s required shutdown of businesses as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. “We had to shut down the business for two months,” said Stuart Dunlap, “and, in that time, probably lost $130K in sales.”
Albuquerque’s Downtown, according to Dunlap, has been bleak since the shutdown in 2020. Businesses being forced to shut down their operations coupled with the rise in homelessness is not helping the Downtown revitalization. Dunlap believes that until buildings and entertainment return to the Downtown area, as well as greater homeless assistance and the incorporation of more retail businesses, it will never be what it had been in years prior and will be less attractive to investors. He does, however, see a silver lining. The recent boom in Downtown housing has brought younger crowds as well as support businesses, such as grocery stores and some entertainment. “Without young blood, you’re dead, and we’re seeing a lot of younger guys and gals coming in.” (You read that right, it’s not just a hat shop for “Men”.) And unlike other retailers, The Man’s Hat Shop does not rely on online sales. They much prefer to work in-person with people to better understand their style, where they live and what they’ll be using the hat for.
Overall, business has come back and has been good ever since, according to Dunlap, thanks in no small part to the growing film industry. “People that live in Albuquerque and work in the film industry know us. They’ll bring in a picture of a character, tell us the role and the era, and we design a hat to fit the character—be it a Western hat, a fedora or a gangster hat.” That same costume designer is likely return to The Man’s Hat Shop for other film projects as well.
As for the future, Stuart Dunlap sees himself selling the business down the road to someone willing to learn the art that he learned from his father many years ago. Until then, The Man’s Hat Shop will remain a unique destination on Route 66. “We’re still Downtown—not because we love it here, but because we’re a destination and people come to us.”