Men’s modern headwear has not changed much over time. Sure, some features are tweaked with time—take the fit of baseball caps, for example, or the varying cuffs on knit beanies—but the core designs have largely stayed the same. Because of this, and its dedication to its original focus on customer service, St. Louis’ present-day Levine Hat Co. hasn’t changed much either since its founding in 1903.
The historic Levine Hat Co. was founded by Benjamin Levine. A cleaner in Kansas City, Benjamin was forced to sell his business to cover the replacement cost of a customer’s accidentally damaged suit. He relocated and changed focus; in Kansas City, he offered hat cleaning, so in St. Louis he decided to make headwear the focus. The business has stayed in the same family and at the same location since its founding. After Benjamin came Louis Levine, followed by Edward and Carol Levine. Fifteen years ago the fourth-generation Levine, Lance, joined the company. Lance manages the store, noting his parents are both still involved with the company.
Inside the store, shoppers are greeted by literally thousands of hats displayed on racks. (The way they should be displayed, Lance notes.) The company describes itself as “the largest retail hat store in the world in terms of floor space and hats displayed” and features well-known brands like Stetson, Henschel and Kangol, as well as its own line. While this visual may be overwhelming to a browsing customer, Lance assures the Levine Hat Co. staff is there to serve as well-versed guides.
“My grandfather always said you have to have open selling, and we want people to walk in and say ‘Wow! There must be 10,000 hats in here!’ And, they’re right,” Lance says. “We’ve done things a certain way for 100 years. Our selection and prices make us look like a warehouse, whereas our quality and service make us feel more like a boutique. I will never change that.”
Another thing not being changed? The location: 1416 Washington Avenue. “St Louis City has a vibrant community of fashionable and well-dressed men, and we want to be right in the heart of it,” says Lance. He notes free shipping and easy returns are available from the store’s website (levinehat.com), but emphasizes the benefits of coming into the store to find the perfect fit. “County folk will just have to make the trip down to see us.”