Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 20
 
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton


HAT HAVEN: “We have at least 200 different styles of hats. Hats are important for sun protection to prevent skin cancer and reduce the aging of skin. They look good and can be very stylish.” Andy Gensey, store manager at Landau’s, is wearing one of the popular small-brimmed raffia straw fedoras.

Fashionable and Functional: Hats Are Hot, Check Out Landau’s Super Selection

Bad hair day? Wear a hat! Out in the rain or sun? Wear a hat! Fishing, hiking, sailing, canoeing, gardening, picnicking? Wear a hat!

And today, the place to get that hat is Landau’s at 114 Nassau Street. Versatile, reversible, collapsible, crushable, crocheted, big brims, small brims, visors, straw, raffia, cotton, paper and polyester, mixed fibers, simple to elegant — there is truly a hat for everyone, from infants to adults.

“Historically, we haven’t sold hats, and we started buying hats more to develop a ‘season’ for us in the spring and summer,” explains co-owner Robert Landau. “In the fall and winter, we are the ‘wool family’.”

Adds Landau associate Joan Froehlich: “People began to ask for hats, and we’re a woolen store. So in summer, it’s a great idea to have hats.”

A keen awareness of what customers like and will buy has been a strong point of Landau’s since Henry Landau opened it as a dry-goods store in Jersey City in 1914. “The principle has always stayed the same,” points out his grandson, Robert Landau. “You try to find quality merchandise that will last and that people will buy. The key is when something is special to extend the offering so that many customers can get it.

“When my grandfather heard that the Holland Tunnel was going to displace the store, instead of folding his tent, he moved to Brooklyn, realized there would be construction workers in the area, so he started selling overalls. That philosophy has prevailed. We pay attention to our customers. My parents listened to what the customers wanted instead of telling them what they needed.”

Next Best Thing

In 1955, Mr. Landau’s father and mother, David and Evelyn Landau, moved the store to Princeton, “and that is an interesting story,” he adds. “Stella and Joe Caplan owned the Princeton Army and Navy store, and they were my mother’s aunt and uncle. Originally, we were on Witherspoon Street.”

From that point on, he says, it has been a process of evolution, with an emphasis on the “next best thing.” For example, as he explains, “In 1956 or ’57, women began coming in and asking about a new thing for them — what had formerly been dungarees. Women wanted them; they had been wearing men’s, but they didn’t fit right. There was such an interest that we began selling Wrangler blue jeans for women. Of course, later, everyone started selling blue jeans.”

Then, it was time to move on to the next “best thing.” Another interesting story!

“After jeans, we were the first store in the U.S. selling panty hose,” says Mr. Landau. “This occurred when a British woman came in, and asked if we stocked ‘hold-ups’. She explained they were a stocking produced in England that stayed up by itself. My father wrote to England, and in 1963 (when we moved to Nassau Street), we started selling panty hose. We became the distributor of ‘Pretty Polly’ panty hose to Macy’s and Wanamaker’s.

“Then, in time, everyone had panty hose, so we needed a new idea. We happened to be in a showroom in New York, and saw a ridiculously beautiful poncho made of Icelandic wool. We brought one in, and everyone was attracted to it, but it needed to be refined for size.”

Eventually, the store carried Icelandic wool sweaters, coats, socks, and mittens, which were a huge hit. At one point in the 1970s, Landau’s represented 40 percent of Icelandic imports, adds Mr. Landau.

Hands-On

One of the major reasons for Landau’s success in finding the next “best thing” is that Robert Landau and his brother and co-owner, Henry Landau, operate a very hands-on store. Both are buyers, and are on the floor mingling with customers.

“Because we are here, we can observe, hear things, and see whether our ideas work. Our forte is seeing the enthusiasm of customers when they like something or knowing when they don’t want something and why. We see the customers’ reactions: if they buy it or don’t buy it. If you’re here, you will have more information than if you’re not here.”

Now, the next “best thing” for Landau’s is to offer a great selection of hats. “It has taken off,” he reports. “People come in and buy four hats at once. We had a group of women’s hats in three colors: white, red, and black. Now, there are 24 colors for that hat. Everyone seems to want a hat. Princeton University students come in to get one for their parties, and a 90-year-old woman bought one for the Kentucky Derby! Teens like the styles of our hats.

“We did a fantastic business on Communiversity Day, when it was so hot. It’s really important to wear a hat for sun protection to prevent skin cancer and premature aging. We have hats that have excellent UV sun protection — UPF 50+ rating that block 97.5 percent of the sun’s UV rays. It’s comparable to wearing sunblock.”

“With hats, you can look cool and feel cool in the summer, and look cool and feel warm in the winter. From a fashion standpoint, you can take a hat and change the look of your outfit. That’s good in today’s economy. Other times, you could be going to an event that you feel requires a hat — a wedding, lawn tea party, etc. We have elegant hats with flowers and bows for ladies and hats all made of ribbons. Hats in every color, every style, in solids, patterns, and stripes.

“For men, we have many styles, including the classic summer straw boater and the famous Panama hat, which, incidentally, was first made during the building of the Panama Canal.”

Better Stuff

Hats are also in every price range — from $10 to $400. A typical price for a woman’s hat is $24, with men’s hats in the $30 range.

A wide price selection distinguishes Landau’s. “People want value for their money, and value is dependent on quality,” points out Mr. Landau. “The first standard is always quality, and second is a price that people will want. We can’t compete with the department stores, so we have to offer better stuff or stuff you can’t find elsewhere, or good prices — or best, a combination of all three. We always have an on-going sale.”

In addition to hats, Landau’s offers specialty woolens, University logo apparel, super-fine cotton shirts for men, and silk ties. There is also an excellent selection of Harris tweed jackets, and a number of woolen specials, such as coats and sweaters, are available now at out-of-season prices. Gift certificates are offered.

“I enjoy the customers and the evolution of the store,” says Mr. Landau. “The success of the hats has really surprised me. So many people want them. Figuring out that we can sell 1000 hats and more, never having sold hats in that number before has been great. And we will keep looking forward to the next ‘best thing’ we can find for our customers.”

Right now, it is hats. And remember, Aretha Franklin wore a memorable one at Barack Obama’s inauguration. With the right chapeau, you, too, can stand out in the crowd!

Landau’s is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 to 4:30. (609) 924-3494. Website: www.landauprinceton.com.

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