By Kathryn M. Miller ~ The spirit of independence and individuality that built the West is alive and well in Cave Creek, and it lives and breathes within the walls of Watson’s Hat Shop.
What started out as a childhood passion for the fedora (à la Indiana Jones) has become a 2,400-square-foot storefront that is keeping alive the craftsman traditions of yesteryear.
“Eric actually started the passionate hat thing at the age of 12, when he loved Indiana Jones’ hat – the fedora,” says Dawn Reinbolt office manager at Watson’s Hat Shop and Mom to hat maker Eric Watson. “We lived in Ohio at that point in time and he says, ‘Mom, drive me around to all of the antique stores, because I’m looking for old fedoras – I can’t find what I want in the store.’ We drove around and found old fedoras and he found old hat molds. I didn’t have any clue what they were; he did all the research. He would spend hours in my kitchen taking the ribbons off the hats; he’d steam them over my tea kettle; he would iron them with my iron on the brim molds, and shape them over and over until it got it perfect – to what Indiana Jones’ hat looked like. So that’s how it all began.”
Fast-forward to post college and a down economy, when Watson makes the decision to literally take the road less traveled.
“He had some hats that he had bought at the antique store and he restored them, and put them up for sale on the Internet – and they sold,” says Reinbolt. “So he says, ‘You know what, I think I’m going to make them now.’ So he started to work out of his little apartment and started to learn how to really build them, and make them from scratch.”
A dying art, with few opportunities to apprentice, Watson looked to some old hatters to further his hat-making education.
“They would give him little tidbits of information. They don’t give it all up…so he would take what little he could get from them knowledge-wise, along with what he would learn on his own, and it evolved into what you see today,” Reinbolt continues.
When Watson and his wife moved to Cave Creek a few years ago, he knew that he needed a storefront to continue his craft. So in 2012, Watson’s Hat Shop was born.
“We started out by Bryan’s BBQ,” says Reinbolt, “literally in a space of 450 square feet, we could only afford half of that. So we stayed on one side of the room.”
Watson’s has seen tremendous growth since that time, and in October 2015 moved into its new store, built out to reflect the early 1900s, in Stagecoach Village.
A passion for the craft of hat making shows not only in the end product, but in the process as well. Using restored equipment, some from more than a century ago, Watson is truly old-school. They bought one of the oldest hat shops in Boston (operating from 1860-1989), and, among other tools, use a 120-year-old conformateur from Paris. “It gives us an exact template of your head, so you get that perfect fit.”
Watson also prides himself on sourcing materials from American suppliers.
“All of the raw materials that go into our felt hats, all of it is 100 percent made in the U.S.,” he says, “We’re really big on that.”
Watson’s creates custom hats for just about every taste – dress, cowboy, Aussie, Panama and a number of styles for the ladies. They also provide restoration services and carry a number of accessories. But regardless of the style, Watson keeps his focus firmly on the craftsmanship of his product.
“What we focus on is making a high quality, custom, vintage hat. Something that is going to last. Something that is going to hold up.”
Watson’s Hat Shop is located at 7100 East Cave Creek Road, Suite 148, in Cave Creek. For more information, call 480.595.9777 or visit www.watsonshatshop.com. | CST
Photos by Bill Watters