New York City, NY

Chapeaus & Culture: FlameKeepers Hat Club In Harlem

Ann Brown
Marc Williamson/Image shot by Robert DeLeon/FKHC, courtesy of Marc Williamson

Wearing a hat can not only change your outfit but your attitude. This is something the dapper Marc Williamson, owner of FlameKeepers Hat Club in Harlem, knows well. His shop sells hats of all kinds -- for men and women, from casual baseball caps to fancy top hats, from boaters to Kangol caps. And each hat possesses a different style and attitude.

Hats are hot. The hat sales industry revenue is more than $2 billion a year, according to Statistic Brain. “Hats are certainly making a major comeback, and people need to be self-expressive in these days and times,” says Williamson, a born-and-bred New Yorker. FlameKeepers’ hat and cap prices range from $55 to $1500-plus.
Photo from FlameKeepers

Williamson opened FlameKeepers in 2014 with a mission. “FlameKeepers Hat Club, we’re passing the torch of good taste from one generation to the next. Are we a ‘club’? I would say that we are a community of people that share a heightened positive vibration. A community that is on a journey to embrace and truly share the very best that life has to offer,” he explains.

Williamson has actually been in the hat business for more than 20 years, going back to when he took a job selling hats when he was just a student.

“I don’t know if I would describe it as a ‘love of hats,’ but I’m more in love with how the ‘right hat’ can make a person feel. I’ve sold thousands of hats, and making a person look good and feel good is our main objective at FKHC. When you look good and feel good, it plays a major part in the kind of day someone is having. It can turn around a ‘bad day, and it can heighten the experience of a ‘good day,” says Williamson. “In many instances, how you feel correlates to the way you treat people and the energy you share. Every day might not be your best day or the best day of the people you happen to interact with, but when you come across a person with the right energy or vibration, it tends to be a game-changer… least for a fleeting moment.”

Flamekeepers is more than just a business to the area—he’s created a community hub. “I want a special place where like-minded people can come together and ‘fellowship’ per se,” notes Williamson. “I feel like community hubs are always necessary. Communities need a place where forward thinkers and activists can come together.”
Photo from FlameKeepers

And for Williamson, Harlem was the best place to create such a hub.

“I didn’t really choose Harlem; Harlem chose me. As I scouted areas to open, I looked downtown-- the Lower East Side--and in Brooklyn as well as Harlem. I felt that Harlem was the place for what I had to offer,” says Williamson. “As far as contemporary brick and mortar retail, I felt Harlem had an undiscovered beauty. There were a few Black-owned retail shops that I was aware of, like Harlem Haberdashery and a vintage clothing store (B.O.R.N.) owned by Jonathan Brodrick and Terry Artis of Lifetime TV’s 'Born To Style' series, also Princess Jenkins’ The Brownstone (established in 1988) that I loved. I loved what they were doing, and I wanted to contribute the cultural impact that they were providing.”

While Harlem is thriving, the community, like the rest of NYC, was hit hard by the pandemic. But FlameKeepers was supported by longtime customers. In fact, 90 percent of the sales made when the shop re-opened were made by repeat customers.

“We survived the pandemic with the support of the FlameKeepers Hat Club community. They showed up big time,” says Williamson. “They made sure that we got through. We were still shipping orders all over the country and internationally, and I was even dropping off hats in my car.”

Now Williamson is looking to make the year 2022 even busier for FlameKeepers. He says, “My goal is to make Flamkeepers Hat Club bigger than it's ever been and to touch more lives.”

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Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York City, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cape Verde,” a Facebook community. Among the topics she writes about are: business, travel, entertainment, and lifestyles.

Queens, NY

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