Gus Miller, proprietor of Batsakes Hat Shop, works on a custom hat. Miller started working for uncle Pete Batsakes at the shop 56 years ago, when he was 17. Batsakes, a Cincinnati institution frequented by many celebrities, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

THE ENQUIRER / CARA OWSLEY

THE PHILADELPHIA ENQUIRER PAYS HOMAGE TO GREAT HATTER, GUS MILLER

If you don’t know Miller then you don’t know about his retail store Batsakes. Miller was 17-years-old when he started steaming hats at his uncles hat store in Cincinnati. Legend has it that Miller was given a broom and told to sweep. But it wasn’t long (20 years to be exact) before the shop was his.

Well, the shop that Pete Batsakes built in 1907 in Cincinnati is now celebrating its 100th year in business. And 73-year-old Miller is the sole proprietor. His hats are legendary (he makes his own fedoras) and his personality and business acumen have withstood the test of time.

Celebrities shop there (Luciano Pavarotti, Bill Cosby, President George H.W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush, the late comic Red Skelton, Tony Bennett and Snoop Dogg) as well as athletes and local hat lovers.

If you want to read the entire article - that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer - here it is. It is nice to know that the media has not forsaken the headwear industry. Now it’s our job to make sure that every head has a hat on it!

Hat shop alone on top
Batsakes has weathered changes in menswear
BY JOHN ECKBERG | [email protected]

When Gus Miller landed in Cincinnati from a small village in Greece 56 years ago, he was 17 years old and didn't know a Stetson 10-gallon hat from a Brooklyn porkpie.

Soon, he was steaming and shaping hats of all types at Batsakes Hat Shop - a downtown Cincinnati institution owned by uncle Pete Batsakes.

But his career didn't start out that way. The first thing Uncle Pete did was give Gus a broom.

"He told me that I'd probably get the shop someday, but that you don't start out on the third floor of a company. You start in the basement," Gus said. "He told me to go sweep up. And that was the first thing I did every day. I still do it, too."

Within six months, Miller was given a promotion: Fill out a hat ticket and write the corresponding number in the headband. Two decades later, the shop was his.

A Cincinnati destination merchant with a store downtown since 1907, Batsakes Hat Shop was thriving then and now as the store celebrates its 100th year and embarks on a second century of sales. Batsakes (bat-SAHK-ees) has weathered difficult times in recent years - fewer men wearing hats, fewer men worried about shoe shines, fewer shoppers in downtown Cincinnati - but thanks to old-world craftsmanship, word-of-mouth and a loyal, hat-wearing clientele, the store has survived.

In Miller's time behind the counter with a front window view of downtown, he has seen plenty of competitors disappear.

"Every department store used to have a hat shop," Miller said, his words still carrying traces of a Greek accent. "Men's stores, too. You had Hart Schaffner Marx, Bolts, Paragon hats - plenty of stores, and they're all gone now."

Despite the challenges of a shrinking market, one thing hasn't changed since 1907 - when Cincinnati streets were still horse-trodden, writers like Mark Twain passed through town and President Theodore Roosevelt hyped his grassroots popularity from the White House - cold weather is hat-buying weather for men.

Miller, a 73-year-old Price Hill resident, is behind his glass at Sixth and Vine streets before 8 a.m. on most mornings, about the same time the stream of office workers downtown turns into a river. The place is a sanctuary for some.

"I come in for a shoe shine and to escape," Cincinnati City Councilman Jim Tarbell said one recent weekday morning.

Though fewer men wear hats these days than decades ago, this store isn't a buggy-whip merchant yet, though most of Miller's tools date to that era: a steam cleaner and reshaper, wooden blocks to stretch and shape hats, razors in wooden brim cutters.

Celebrities and athletes love the place, as Miller has created and sold hats to singer Luciano Pavarotti, comedian Bill Cosby, President George H.W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush, the late comic Red Skelton and entertainer Tony Bennett.

When former Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Deion Sanders, currently an analyst with NFL Network, announced to a Super Bowl audience during a pre-game show one year that he got his hat from Batsakes Hat Shop in Cincinnati, Gus got about a million dollars' worth of free publicity.

Why do celebrities come to this shop when they could go anywhere else in the country?

"Celebrities come because of the character of the place. You don't see places like this anymore," Miller said. "I think it's curiosity."

Sanders said it's not just that.

"The thing about Batsakes is this - the service you get is undeniably the best in the business," he said in a phone conversation. "Matter of fact, my relationship with them helped me in my business.

"People took notice of the hats I was wearing, and I struck up a deal to create my own line. Every time I come to Cincinnati, I stop by Batsakes. Gus is just a great guy to deal with."

The power of personal service
To the casual observer, Batsakes Hat Shop is as much museum as century-old Queen City merchant: no fax, no Web site, no e-mail.

It's amazing that he even has a telephone.

"I like people to come in and talk. It makes it personal," Miller said.

A signed baseball collection fills two areas and hat display cases have photos tucked into the glass - baseballs signed by former Reds pitcher Tom Browning, baseball great Pete Rose, former Oakland A's pitcher Vida Blue, MLB pitcher Roger Clemens and former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. are here but somewhat hidden. Dozens of other balls are stacked six high.

Letters from both presidents Bush are framed and hang on walls.

A letter from President Reagan thanks Miller, a native of Gouves, Greece, for his entrepreneurial spirit and for the cowboy hat that Miller made for him two-and-a-half decades ago. Reagan helped cowboy hat sales a lot, Miller said.

Blame President John F. Kennedy in part for a hat downswing in the 1960s.

When Kennedy did not wear a hat to his inauguration, the industry went into a tailspin.

The Indiana Jones series of movies helped hat sales for a while, but interest in that movie faded and so did hat sales.

Today, rappers, rockers and movie stars wear fedoras, as well as caps by Kangol and Borsalino, and Batsakes is one of the few specialty shops that meets their needs.

For every crooner who has passed away, such as Frank Sinatra, another hat-wearing star - say, Justin Timberlake - will emerge, and hat sales rise accordingly.

"Snoop Dogg was in here about two years ago. We had to lock the doors, and the windows were full of girls looking in at him," Miller said. "He sat right over there (pointing to the shoe shine stand) and bought $1,200 worth of hats."

Bob Dylan - he likes hats too.

"A little skinny guy. He wore a hood. He'd try on a hat, take off the hat and put his hood back up. Try on a hat. Take it off. Hood back up. He bought $4,000 worth of hats," Miller said. "I didn't know who he was. When he got back into his limousine, his manager told me."

Surviving a changing market
Hat sales have always hitched a ride on fashion trends. Hats are not necessarily a cheap accessory, either, which may explain why celebrities and others find their way to this store. A custom fedora handmade by Miller costs $175.

"I've been buying hats from Gus for 20 years," said Parker Cowgill, 60, of Milford, who came in last week to have his black Stetson reshaped.

"Lots of cities don't even have a hat shop anymore. We're lucky he's still around."

In the past, American men went nowhere without a hat.

"In Cincinnati even in the 1950s, all the men would meet at Fountain Square on Sept. 15 and throw their summer straw hats in the air all at once because it was time for a winter hat," Miller said. "On May 15, they'd go to the square and throw their fedoras up in the air at the same time, then go buy a summer hat."

Retirement? Don't look for it anytime soon from Miller. He has seen too many people retire only to have their health erode, then fail.

"There's another thing, too," said Miller. "Really, I've never worked a day in my life. I love what I do."

Batsakes Hat Shop, 605 Walnut St.
Business: Custom hats, cleaning, fitting.
Founded: 1907

How to sell hats, in the words of Uncle Pete
Press Gus Miller for insights into how a company can keep the revenues rolling in for a century, and he wastes about a half-second before he quotes the business wisdom of his uncle, Pete Batsakes:

"If you're not going to do something right, then don't mess with it at all."


THE ENQUIRER / CARA OWSLEY
Gus Miller (center), started working at Batsakes Hat Shop for his uncle, Pete Batsakes (right), when he was 17. Miller's shop has survived a decline in popularity of men's hats, and is still going strong 100 years after its founding. Miller says he has no plans to retire, 56 years after he started working at the store.