Perhaps you have noticed the large building on the west side of I-43 near Downtown with the words "Hats Caps" in big yellow letters on the facade. After years of wondering, OnMilwaukee.com stopped in and got the scoop on City Life Boutique, 1325 N. 12th St.
Since 1981, City Life has offered a large selection of hats, both popular name brands and Edgeston Knits, which is the name of the owners’ personal line of knitted caps that were once made in the back of the store on a 100-year-old circular knitting machine.
It has been two years since co-owner and master knitter D.C. Edgeston passed away, and even longer since the knitting machine was turned on. His wife, Anna, still runs the shop and although she has lots of hats for sale that her late husband created, she does not use the machine herself. But out of nostalgia, during the interview, she fired it up.
"This was D.C.’s passion," she says while the mammoth machine spins and clanks. "He went to New York to buy this. This meant everything to him."
The Edgestons -- who were married for 25 years and had three children -- bought the building in 1981 and opened the business the same year. Many years ago, D.C. wrote a statement that is now on the company's Web site, "I have had to fight off crime on my doorstep, but, being so close to Downtown, the area is going to have to be of some importance again."
For 35 years, D.C worked for the Reliable Knitting Works, a Third Ward knitting factory that closed in 2006. In 2000, D.C. retired to pursue his business full time and create thousands of hats, caps, scarves and leg warmers on his knitting machine. Today, many of his creations are stored in boxes in the large back room which also houses the monstrous knitting machine.
City Life offers upscale hat brands like Kangol, Dobbs, Stetson, Kappa, Bailey, Wiggins and Hinshaw. The hat prices range from $19 for a Kangol to $265 for a mink hat. The shop offers classic styles like fedoras, pork pies, newsboys (also called "big apples"), driving caps, baseball and military style hats and ascots (hard, driving-style hats). But the shop doesn’t offer team caps of any kind.
"If someone comes in here and wants a team cap, I tell them to go to Lids in the mall. Those are not my forte," says Anna.
City Life also offers gloves and T-shirts adorned with blues and jazz greats like Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Billie Holiday. Jazz is another Edgeston passion and often plays in the background in the shop.
City Life Boutique started out in its present location in 1981 and stayed there until 1987 when the couple moved the business to the Grand Avenue Mall. They stayed in the mall until 1999 when they decided to move back to the 12th Street building.
"The Grand Avenue was good for business. There was a lot of foot traffic then, but we got tired of the hours," says Anna. "We wanted to be more in control of when we opened and closed."
Anna says lack of competition helps keep her small, family-run business alive. Plus, owning the building keeps expenses low and she is able to work most of the hours herself with occasional help from her children.
"There aren’t too many hat shops left in Milwaukee, so we do OK," says Anna.
After a few seconds of silence and a wistful look on her face, she continues talking.
"And be sure to credit D.C. in the article. He would have liked this. He was always trying to get the paper to write about him and they never did. He really would have liked this."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.