A Visit to Yerevan’s Sole Hatter

I love hats. I’ve been collecting them for years of all shapes and sizes, Borsalinos and wool caps by Kangol (back when they were still made in Great Britain). The coolest Kangols had a built-in ear flap that folded out to protect against the extreme cold, which I used rarely fearing I’d look ridiculous. In the last several years I started purchasing baseball caps for the summer, usually without team logos, although I found a replica of a hat that used to be worn by a Black team called the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1920s in Marshalls of all places -- there’s a large white C printed just above the visor which is essentially why I bought it. And two weeks ago in front of “Kino Rassia,” a fantastic building that looks like the mysterious ship from the early Alien movies located south of Republic Square—originally a two-screen movie theater that’s been converted into a giant department store—I acquired a rip-off Burberry cap for 2,000 dram. They sell all sorts of counterfeit caps by Gucci, Nike, Adidas and other brands, even sunglasses, all for cheap.

But at 5 Tigran Mets Street, a two-minute’s walk down from Republic Square, just past the Hanrapetutyan Street intersection, on the left is a tiny hat store, and the space is shared with a watchmaker. The proprietor Jirayr tells me he’s the last hatter of Yerevan, no one else in the entire city is in the business of making hats. He was featured in a short film that appeared in YouTube recently.

I’ve been meaning to venture in there for years but kept postponing my visit. But the other day as my head was about to sizzle under the 100 degree F sun I decided to pop in to see what summer cotton caps he had on display. I found him behind the sewing machine as he was stitching a plaid cap. He took one look at me and got up from his table immediately. I asked what he had to offer, something light in color, like off white or beige. He had two styles--with or without a button on the top center of the cap. I didn’t want the newsboy style had so he showed me several other hats, all more or less one size with no way of adjusting the rim tighter. I quickly noticed that all of them were dirty, and I surmised they were because his hands were probably oily from the sewing machine lubricant, or else judging from his thick wide framed glasses he simply didn’t see the dust that gathered, or else he didn’t care that much.

“Check these out,” he starts to boast as he flipped through the pile. “What do you think, huh? No one makes caps like these any more. You know what people are doing? They’re buying my hats, they sew tags and brand name decals inside and sell them for 2000 dram down the street.”

“Oh, that’s impressive. So how much do you sell them for here?”

“What, these?” He patted the pile of filthy hats. “These are 1000 dram, and [pointing to the button hats] those are 1500.”

He continued on about being the sole hatter left and having the best caps anywhere in the city, handmade and sturdy, while he opened an old green safe from Soviet times, filled with even more stained hats. I didn’t see a single relatively clean cap anywhere. He crushed a white one in his hand to demonstrate how durable they were.

“You can fold it up and put it in your pocket, later take it out and wear it again, never loses shape.”

“Can I put it in the washing machine?”

“What do you think I’m telling ya? Look at this,” he said as he rumpled it again then let it fall on the table. Indeed, the visor didn’t appear to have been creased or damaged in any way.

I told him I would make change and return later in the day, since I only had a 10,000 dram note on me. Then he told me if I left I shouldn’t come back since I wouldn’t find anything better, which I thought was an odd thing to say. But hey, the guy is proud, he must be in his 80s, he’s had his fill of bullshit over the years.

I relent and ask if he can make change. “What’s the problem?” he said and removed some cash from his shirt pocket. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. “Here’s one, two, three…” when he stopped at eight I told him that was enough. Then he chooses what must have been the most problematic cap to clean, sporting a line he drew with a blue ballpoint on the right side, assumingly to indicate where to sew the seam. I didn’t make any fuss, I thanked him and left in a hurry, sorry I entered in the first place.

Later when I took the crushed hat out of the scrunched cellophane shopping bag I noticed some red streaks on the top of it. Turns out it had been turned inside out and the coated red lettering used to identify the supermarket wore off onto the hat. 

Quite honestly, I really don’t care if the marks and blotches can be cleaned, at least I can say that I supported him, that I visited the little hat store I’ve been meaning to go to for a dozen years. Jirayr had some really good-looking winter wool caps on display on the walls as well, but I’m going to wait until it gets cooler before I return to try some on.

Jirayr’s tiny store is difficult to notice, so take a leisurely stroll down the street. It’s sandwiched between a clothing store and an electronics repair shop, both equally easy to miss. Here’s hoping you get the stains out.


Marash Girl said…
Marash Girl said…
I thought I already published my comment but if it didn't take, here goes again:

"Hey, at least the visit inspired a great blog! Thanks!"
Anonymous said…
Garo, your story and the video remind me of the little hat shop and hat maker in Gyumri.

What nice hats, all of them!

Knarik Meneshian
Wow, now that's old-school! We're coming to Yerevan to publish the second issue of Like a Local magazine from September 9-30th. Could we possibly get in touch with you via e-mail to chat about the city and potential topics?

You can shoot us an e-mail at likealocalmag@gmail.com or just leave your e-mail here.

Thanks in advance!
Vrejouhy said…
I too stopped by the hat shop on Dikran Medtz and ended up buying five hats , all very dusty but he was convincing that was not a problem and I left his shop wearing a white hat he chose for me . I could not argue with a man in his late 80s who still works seven days a week.
Vrejouhy said…
I too stopped by the hat shop on Dikran Medtz and ended up buying five hats , all very dusty but he was convincing that was not a problem and I left his shop wearing a white hat he chose for me . I could not argue with a man in his late 80s who still works seven days a week.

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