History of SA staple Paris Hatters includes fitting Pope John Paul, Johnny Cash

Story aired on KSAT News at Nine Throwback Thursday series

In this week's Throwback Thursday on KSAT News at Nine, we look at the history of Paris Hatters on Broadway Street.
In this week's Throwback Thursday on KSAT News at Nine, we look at the history of Paris Hatters on Broadway Street.

SAN ANTONIO – Countless rows of cowboy hats, fedoras and pictures on the wall, Paris Hatters has several stories to tell. 

The store opened in 1917 near the historic Joske’s building and moved to the Broadway Street location in the early 1960s.

Abe Cortez and his wife Myrna are third-generation owners of Paris Hatters, which started as a used-clothing store that was run by Cortez’s father and uncle.

“They would go to (a) farm and sell clothes, 50 cents for the shirts and all that,” said Abe Cortez.

The store prospered but the hat business declined in the ‘60s as hats fell out of style among influential figures, such as President John F. Kennedy.

More than a dozen local hat stores or companies closed, but Paris Hatters survived.

The Western hat business started to boom again in the 1980s during the "Urban Cowboy" era.

Paris Hatters became a destination for celebrities such as Tommy Lee Jones, musicians like Bob Dylan and Dwight Yoakum, heads of state and religious figures.

“We were fortunate enough to do the pope in the '80s. Pope John Paul II, Johnny Cash came in many times,” said Myrna Cortez. “They love that we feel old and we smell like leather here. This is part of the attraction.”

The store's iconic cash register, which was bought in 1917 and still works today. 

“This is the traditional thinking register. It's been with us all these years and people love it,” said Alexandra Sledge, daugter of Abe and Myrna.

The store has a variety of hats that cater to every customer.

Paris Hatters is one of two stores to carry the Stetson 1000X, which comes with its own tooled leather suitcase.

"We have had people who fly in for the day to come and buy that hat,” said Myrna Cortez. 

“We carry from the very cheapest to the most expensive hat,” said Abe Cortez.

Creating the perfect hat look is an art that has been perfected for decades and will continue in the future.

Sledge said she has seen hats become more prominent in the past decade.

“A lot of people my age and a little bit younger feel like the perfect hat is a great addition to any outfit,” said Sledge.

Sledge has worked at the store for years, learning from her parents and making sure every customer walks out with the right fit.

“I sold my first hat when I was 11 years old. So it's kind of in my blood,” said Sledge. 

“We are a staple in San Antonio. We're a very unique business that reflects the culture of Texas,” said Myrna Cortez.

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.

Andrew Wilson is a digital journalist and social media producer at KSAT.