SA hatter shapes cowboy hats with dying art form

Abe Cortez, owner of Paris Hatters, uses same tools from when store opened

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio hatter is keeping alive a dying art form to build, shape and restore custom-fitted hats, tailored to the cowboys and cowgirls of the Alamo City.

Paris Hatters is a family-owned business in downtown San Antonio and is approaching its 100th anniversary next year. Abe Cortez said his father bought the block set Paris Hatters still uses to shape their hats for $15 when store opened in 1917. They also use the original steamers and equipment for reshaping and renovating hats, adding more to the rich history the store has to offer.

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The store carries more than 300 dozen hats in stock in 14 different colors and sells more than 800 dozen hats a year.

Cortez said the city’s annual stock show and rodeo is like a second Christmas for the hat store and wishes every month was rodeo time. 

“Some people come in just to have their hats tuned up, reshaped, and dusted off,” he said. “Other (people) buy hats and get them shaped up (or) some of them bring them in for full renovations. We sell just as many hats (during) the rodeo as I do in Christmas.”

Not every one who comes to Paris Hatters is a local, however. Celebrities, including Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Shaquille O’Neal and even Pope John Paul II, have traveled to San Antonio to see Cortez in hopes of finding the perfect cowboy hat.

But Cortez said one of his favorite moments was when boxing promoter Don King wanted a cowboy hat for his birthday. He said King’s signature hairstyle was an obvious issue he had to overcome.

“He comes in with a whole entourage and says, ‘Abe, what would look good on me?’ and so I say, ‘Well, I got a hat like this with a very tall crown,’” Cortez said. “And he says, ‘But what do we do about my hair?’ and I was just joking, and I said, ‘Well, Mr. King, I can cut the top of the hat off behind the band and we can slip hair in there.’ And he goes, ‘Let's do that!’ and so we did and it looked pretty comical.”

Paris Hatters’ rich history is what people enjoy and keeps them coming back to the Broadway store every year, Cortez said.

Whether it’s to buy a hat, see the store itself, or stop by to talk to Cortez, Paris Hatters has become part of a Texas tradition, especially during rodeo time in San Antonio.

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