By MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Aaron Patton
It’s hard to believe that some locals have yet to meet Jack Kellogg. He’s a fifth generation Sedgwick Countian, a fixture of the Historic Delano District since 1980 and he’s been making and selling hats for 45 years in Wichita, including 42 as proprietor of Hatman Jack’s.
Visitors from around the world have stopped into Hatman Jack’s while in Wichita. Hat aficionados from throughout the region make trips here just to buy a hat from Jack. Famous musicians have ordered custom headgear. Even movie and television show crews have called in for hats to meet their wardrobe needs.
The press he’s received for making hats for the likes of Charlie Daniels, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, B.B. King, Mickey Mantle, Luciano Pavarotti and the title character of “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” might have given some people the misconception that Kellogg only offers bespoke hats that will be too pricey for the average person.
Stop in the store at 601 W. Douglas, on the corner in front of the clock tower, and you’ll find displays with hundreds of hats for men and women from more than 50 brands, ranging in style and price from the least expensive to the finest brands. Hatman Jack’s is the third-largest brick-and-mortar hat store in the country. They also sell wallets, scarves, gloves, handbags and more.
The majority of sales are off-the-rack hats tailored to the buyer’s specifications. That could be shaping a hat to fit the customer, adding bands, feathers or other accessories, or making a new hat look worn. The retail business is so busy that Kellogg said he doesn’t promise as many hand-built hats as he once could, even with six additional hatters on the Hatman Jack’s team.
“I added it up the other day and we have hatters with a combined 75 years of experience in this business, and that’s without my 45 years.” Kellogg said. “Everyone who works here is very passionate about preserving what is becoming a lost trade and craft. There are dozens of hat shops in the country and lots of custom hatters, too, but not many that offer the custom fitting and the old-world craft of the business that we’re most proud of.”
While how he sells hats has changed with modernization of point of sales systems and marketing through social media, “in terms of the real craft of the operation, we use tools that date back to 1890 and even before. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Whether a buyer is looking for sun protection or a fashion piece, the hatters at Hatman Jack’s consider face shape, coloring and physical size in helping the customer choose a hat.
Kellogg got into the business as a 15-year-old, inspired by actors like Humphrey Bogart and Roy Rogers incorporating hats into the personas they portrayed on the big screen. While in high school, he bought hatter’s equipment from a man who owned a dry-cleaning business, then studied under an elderly Greek hatter near Hutchinson. He formally launched Hatman Jack’s in 1976. With very little capital, he often worked night jobs to support himself while he learned.
Fortunately, two movies sparked interest in hats and boosted business: “Urban Cowboy” in 1980, then “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981, along with subsequent movies in the Indiana Jones franchise.
He moved his business to Delano in 1980, proud to set up shop in the area where his grandfather had opened Kellogg Bros. Feed Store in 1921. He was part of the group of business owners who helped rebrand River West to Delano in the 1980s, capturing the colorful history of one of Wichita’s oldest neighborhoods. That history, he said, dovetailed nicely with the historical element of hat-making and his own personal interest in local history.
He’s as proud as anyone at the recent growth of the eclectic shopping and entertainment district. He praises newer businesses – many with young, energetic owners – and he hopes that as development continues, city leaders will be careful to protect the aesthetics that create the strong sense of place along the river and down Douglas into the heart of Delano.
“Wichita’s City Council has an incredible opportunity to create something that their kids and grandkids can be proud of,” Kellogg said. “I’m a huge cheerleader for this town and I want the best for our community.”