Best Retail Experience - 2005
Levine Hat Company
Long before St. Louis was first in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League, the Levine Hat Company was hawking hats downtown. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that customers are practically swaddled in service from the moment they step through the door and are handed a plastic head covering (for the more sanitary trying-on of hats). But the thing is, it's always surprising -- "customer service" having become as quaintly anachronistic as the black-and-white photos of hats' heyday that line the entry walls. No, maybe we aren't all strolling the streets of downtown or attending theater opening nights crowned with glory, but plenty of folks still wear hats, and here those hats are given deliberate respect. Racks and racks of chapeaux for men and women line the large space, with each topper individually displayed. Though questions are answered promptly and educated opinions as to height, style and suitability are offered with ease, no obsequious commission-grubber will stalk you through the store. Browse what may well be the biggest hat store in the world in peace, turning your head this way and that, practicing your best tough-guy snarl or curtsy to the queen. Don't see anything you like? Remember, these folks cut their teeth on the manufacture of fine headwear (though the industry has changed to the point where they now retail much more than they make), so tell them what you're looking for; it can probably be whipped up for you. Best of all, you can feel community-minded and shopping-savvy at the same time, as the prices at Levine Hat rival or beat anything you'll find online for quality brands from Stetson to Kangol. A close second to the bricks-and-mortar experience can be found at the store's Web site, where customers can differentiate homburgs from porkpies, learn hat etiquette (do you know when straw-hat season begins?), check hat sizing and more. The world looks different -- and better -- seen from beneath a hat.