Every Western wear store has cowboy hats on display, but the display on the wall of the Powder River shop in Elizabeth is unique because owner and hatmaker Brook Briddle created each hat.
“I have always liked hats, I always wore hats as a kid …
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“I have always liked hats, I always wore hats as a kid and I still like hats today,” Briddle said while creating a hat in the shop at 211 Main St. “I got interested in working with hats when I was a kid watching my brother mess with my hats and I really liked watching a lady named Joyce Meyers in a Western store in Glenwood Springs clean and repair hats and I thought I would like to do that. I was lucky enough to get a job in a hat store when I was in college, had jobs in a couple of other hat shops and I learned the craft through experience and ended up opening my shop here in Elizabeth 14 years ago.”
A Powder River hat begins in a factory in Kentucky as a beaver pelt. In the factory the pelt is felted. Felting, according to the University of California at Santa Cruz website, is a term for applying moisture and agitation to fur in a way so that the fur fibers shrink to create usable material, in this case the material used to make hats.
The felting process produces a hat body that is made to Biddle’s specification and arrives as a shapeless crown attached to a wide brim. He said the bodies come in very raw, so a first step is to put them over a block and sand them to a smooth finish. Another step is the sweat band. Instead of a premade sweat band, Biddle cuts out all the leather for the band and sews it in place inside of the body. He said it takes 13 steps to attach the sweat band to the body.
He demonstrated how a hat can be shaped as he took hat body and used steam while creating the right creases to shape the crown.
“That only takes a few minutes but takes a long time to make a hat because it is done in stages. I’d say it takes me six weeks or more to complete hat made to order for a customer,” the Littleton native said. “I feel every customer I have is the most important customer I have ever made a hat for. I have worked to build a solid reputation and I am known for making hats for true cowboys who live in their hats. I build hats for a lot of people but I take pride as being known as the cowboy’s hatter.”
He said he builds hats to last.
“The guys I build hats for wear them every day, and some of them say I save them money because my hats last so they don’t have to buy a new hat every year or so,” Briddle said. “The quality of the hats I build can last four to eight years and the wearability of the hats I build is far better than any hat you can buy off the shelf.”
Quality comes at a price, and Briddle said the average customer pays from $600 to $750 to have a custom hat built.
His craft is unique and he said he has return customers who come to him to do repairs or to build a new hat for them or as a gift. He also said most new customers come to the shop because someone told them about Powder River.
Tim Brantley was in the shop picking up a hat Briddle had modified and repaired.
“I have been doing businesses with Brook for more than 10 years,” said Brantley. “He is the best hat maker around and the only one who can do it right. Our family has bought several hats from him and we have had others come in and buy hats from him. One of the proudest referred customers I introduced to Brook is Paul Andrews, the CEO of the National Western Stock Show. We gave him a gift certificate for a Powder River hat, he came in and Brook made a hat for him that he still wears every day.”
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