Presiding Over the Largest Selection of Hats in New England"The thing that makes me who I am, and drives me at what I do, is Boston's diversity. Without it I wouldn't be who I am, the store wouldn't be what it is."
Scratch any notion you may have of Boston being in any way homogenous. In fact, just walk into Jessen Fitzpatrick's hat store to see otherwise.
In assembling a diverse assortment of hats — he has more than 5,000 of them — Fitzpatrick, 35, seems to have drawn an equally eclectic group of people to his little store in Jamaica Plain, a hip, family-friendly neighborhood on Boston's southern edge.
"People will be in there and they'll be talking to each other like they know each other. It's like this random vibe. It doesn't normally happen in Boston," he says. "That kind of thing makes me tick."
Fitzpatrick grew up in Boston and on the North Shore. The family directive, as Fitzpatrick calls it, was finance, and he followed, earning a degree in finance from Northeastern University, in Boston, and entering the corporate world.
But while he dutifully slogged away, turning in top numbers, his passion lay in his off-time pursuit: dance. It was through this education — mastering salsa, early hip-hop, break-dancing, and more with immigrant and African-American communities — that Fitzpatrick refined his interest in fashion, and hats in particular.
"The hat trend really died out in the '80s in America. But in the African-American community, they still wore hats," he says. "They kept those hat stores open."
Fitzpatrick and his wife started buying as many hats as their credit cards would allow, patching together a meager living through street fairs until they had enough cash to rent a storefront.
"We just put all our heart and our dough into it. We figure we've been in debt over stupider stuff than this," he says. "You have to put it all in. If it doesn't work out, eat that debt, work two jobs, move on."
The shop, Salmagundi, is indeed working out, bringing a profit despite a recession. It carries the largest selection of hats in New England, and as such serves as a draw for hat wearers throughout the Boston region and beyond.
More than 60 percent of Fitzpatrick's hats are made in the United States, many in Massachusetts. But his customer base is broad, so he has to hire people socially nimble enough to engage customers from every cultural, economic and social background imaginable.
"The thing that makes me who I am, and drives me at what I do, is Boston's diversity," Fitzpatrick says. "Without it I wouldn't be who I am, the store wouldn't be what it is."
When customers ask about places to visit in the area, Fitzpatrick refers them to Vee Vee, a Jamaica Plain wine bar where the menu changes as frequently as his hat display does; JP Seafood Cafe and nearby Indian restaurants; Arnold Arboretum for a walk; or Jamaica Pond for a paddle in the row boats.
"When they come, I try to make their day, say, 'Check out this lunch spot. Go row,'" says Fitzpatrick. "Then that makes their whole experience. It's got to be a whole experience — then they come back and they keep coming back."
Check out Jessen's Boston.