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!
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
Business: Custom hats, cleaning, fitting.
How to sell hats, in the words of Uncle
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.