- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Afternoon shadows were beginning to stretch along Central Avenue when Kayle Miller, tall, lean and 20, strolled into the Man’s Hat Shop.

Miller, a welding student at Central New Mexico Community College, grew up in a ranching and rodeo family in the Belen and Los Lunas area. He’s comfortable around horses and cattle and in boots, jeans and cowboy hats.

He stopped in to pick up the dark gray Resistol he ordered. It’s a special occasion, because this is Miller’s first hat from the Man’s Hat Shop, a downtown institution marking its 70th anniversary this year.

The store at 511 Central NW has a reputation that exceeds the boundaries of Albuquerque and New Mexico, even the country. It is a favorite stopping and shopping place for actors and other entertainers, as well as for regular folks who just appreciate a good hat on their head.

Radio personality Don Imus, folk singer Arlo Guthrie, members of the band the Mavericks and men who have portrayed the cigarette advertising icon the Marlboro Man have all worn hats purchased here.

Two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, in New Mexico a couple of years back to film “The Homesman,” dropped in at the Man’s Hat Shop to buy $1,500 worth of fedoras in different colors, with different brim widths and with different kinds of hat bands.

Johnny Depp, in the state to shoot 2013’s “The Lone Ranger,” came in with his entourage and bought a couple of Western hats, a top hat and some beaded hat bands.

But the store’s colorful, celebrity-studded history is not what has brought Miller to the Man’s Hat Shop.

“This is where my grandfather gets his hats,” he said.

There are stacks and stacks of Stetsons here, as well as Resistols and other brands. The store’s inventory usually runs between 4,000 and 5,000 hats. Because this is New Mexico and because Western movies and TV shows are made here, the store sells more cowboy hats than anything else. But it carries fedoras, Panamas, derbies and other styles.

Owner Stuart Dunlap, 63, said the store sent a variety of fedoras to the makers of the “Breaking Bad” TV series so they could choose a lid for star Bryan Cranston. A fedora reshaped into a porkpie style was the hat chosen for Cranston’s character, chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White.

“Not only do we sell hats, but we can fit anyone - from the smallest to the largest,” Dunlap said. “All qualities, from $150 up to $1,000.”

Dunlap’s late father, Carl, started the Man’s Hat Shop in 1946 when he bought a hat cleaning and blocking business on Sixth Street just south of Central. That was the Man’s Hat Shop location for the first six or seven years. Then it moved to 118 Central SW, just east of the Sunshine Theater. It has been at its present location since 1964.

As a kid, Stuart Dunlap worked at the store, sweeping floors and cleaning hats, with his dad and his late mother, Marge. He joined his father in the business in 1974.

While reshaping young Miller’s hat, Dunlap was working with blocks (for shaping crowns) and flanges (for shaping brims) that are more than 100 years old. He has a crown-ironing machine that is 60 or more years old.

Although the tools stay the same, favorite colors and styles change. Black is still the top-selling color for cowboy hats, but dark grays, such as Miller’s hat, and chocolate browns have been top-selling cowboy colors recently. He is shaping Miller’s hat with a brick crease, a squarer, shorter crown made popular recently by riders on the Professional Bull Riders circuit.

“If this young man brought this hat back tomorrow and wanted the crown changed, I could do that. We also clean and re-block. You can go into any Western store and buy a hat. But you can’t get it fixed like you want it. You can’t get the quality you get here. There are not many people who do what we do. We are a destination business.”

That’s why the Man’s Hat Shop has stayed alive and in the hat business in downtown Albuquerque for 70 years. That and the movie business.

“The movie business has been good to us,” Dunlap said. “We supplied all the hats for ‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007).”

The store did not provide the hats for “The Lone Ranger,” starring Depp and Armie Hammer. But the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, bought several hats at the store.

“I told Mr. Bruckheimer that we could make the Lone Ranger’s hat look a lot better than I had heard it looked,” Dunlap said.

___

Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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