Old tradition carries on in City of Marion

Johsie Reed custom brands a hat for her customer in her shop in Marion. She grew up in Marion County, but she learned the trade in California where she lived for several years. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
Johsie Reed custom brands a hat for her customer in her shop in Marion. She grew up in Marion County, but she learned the trade in California where she lived for several years. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
Kerry and Stacey Bender, from Sacramento, California, came to Marion so Kerry could speak on Sunday at a local church.
“We were at Dorothy’s and ended up finding tickets to the Alan Jackson concert tonight. If we are going to the concert, we need to get hats,” said Kerry.”We found this store and here we are.”
“He has been telling me our whole marriage that I needed a hat,” added Stacey.
Thankfully, the couple found JR Hatters and Mercantile on Main Street in Marion on Saturday so that they could find their cowboy hats in time for their concert that night.
The couple watched and visited with owner Johsie Reed as she burned Stacey’s initials onto her hat.
Reed grew up in Marion, but she moved with her family to Colorado during her teen years. After Reed got married, she and her husband moved out to Los Angeles where she learned how to make hats.
She moved back to Kansas a few years ago and worked at Hatman Jacks and then was a manager at Shepler’s. And now she has found her way back to Marion County.
“I moved back to be at home with my family so it was important to me to be back in Marion to where I grew up so I could raise my son here,” said Reed. “And it’s working. I do a lot of shows here. There are a lot of weekends we are closed like for the rodeo in Strong City.”
Reed has hats that are basically a blank canvas. Customers can choose how they want the hat shaped for everything from the crowns to the brims.
“We want to make sure it is what the customer wants. That they are wearing the hat and not the hat wearing them,” said Reed. “I want people to leave with what they want.”
Reed can do all types of designs with the hats. She can burn designs on the Guatemalan hats because they are handwoven from palm leaves.
She also takes great pride in many of her hats such as her Stetsons, that are all made in the United States.
“It’s been my big goal to make sure I am carrying US-made product,” Reed said.
Reed works full time for Western Associates, so for now she only works part-time on the weekends with her hat store.
“Eventually this will be my full-time job.The shows really keep the store alive. I have guys driving two to three hours just to come this way,” said Reed.
Reed lights up while talking about her hats and her work with them, both in her store and at shows.
Johsie Reed works on a hat about 50 years old that a customer brought in to have restored. By using various powders and textures, Reed can scrub and clean the hat, pulling oils out of the material. Laura Fowler Paulus
Johsie Reed works on a hat about 50 years old that a customer brought in to have restored. By using various powders and textures, Reed can scrub and clean the hat, pulling oils out of the material. Laura Fowler Paulus
“I’ve been doing hat work for about 15 years. This has been my big passion. Moving back to a small town, I wasn’t sure how it was gonna go. We live in such a rural community so I carry more cowboy hats and stuff like that, but I have done everything from fedoras and dress hats. I’ve done hats for movies, celebrities and musicians.”
Reed strives for her craft to be authentic.
Reed uses authentic, original tools of the trade including these old hat forms that are close to 120 years old. Laura Fowler Paulus / Free Press
Reed uses authentic, original tools of the trade including these old hat forms that are close to 120 years old. Laura Fowler Paulus / Free Press
“All the tools I use are about 114-120 years old. I try to do everything that way that hat work was done originally minus the mercury. Did you know that the mad hatter term is because the hatters literally became crazy from the mercury they used making the hats?” Reed asked.
In addition to the hats, Reed sells shoes, belts, belt buckles and jewelry.
She is also looking forward to working with other small businesses and the community to build community events.
While she is limited in store hours at this time, she is more than willing to meet customers in evenings and times that work well for them. The hours for JR Hatters and Mercantile are currently M-F call for appt., Friday 5-7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. For info see Facebook or call 620-381-4392.