PIGEON FORGE - A store in Pigeon Forge has been in the same family for more than 40 years. At Stages West, a giant boot greets shoppers just inside the entrance.
If you keep walking then you'll find a store within the store. It's a store that came back after a fire.
In August 2015 fire ripped through Stages West in Pigeon Forge and destroyed almost everything inside: thousands of cowboy boots, western style clothes and custom hats. Stephen Houser is the one who fits those custom hats.
"We have this antique device which luckily was saved from the fire. Even before the fire marshal allowed us inside the store I came in and grabbed what is called a conformitor and brought it out because I knew everything else could be replaced but it took me six years of searching to find one of these that was in good working order. I didn't want to have spend another six years searching for another one if I could even find one," he recalled.
The family-owned business that opened in 1975 reopened last June. And Stephen restored the rare hat-measuring device to its rightful place.
"It looks something like a medieval torture device but when you put it on and steam that pattern of someone's head into their hat there's nothing else like it," he said. "It's the only way you can properly measure a hat."
The spring-loaded device creates an exact measurement of the head with the help of a pin-pricked piece of heavy paper.
"Everybody's head is a little bit different and that custom fit is like nothing else you can find," he said.
Stephen demonstrated the process carefully, very carefully.
"They are all hand-made and they are incredibly delicate. If you drop it, it's broken and it can't be repaired," he said.
He placed the pierced paper pattern in a device called a formillon then manipulated pegs to mimic the exact size of the head. That fits into the hat which he then steams and shapes for a custom fit.
"It's kind of just a service that we do," he said.
Service is what it's all about at a family-owned business that considers customers to be, well, family.
"If you don't want an experience, go shop on Amazon" he said. "But if you want the ability to have something custom fitted, to work with a professional that knows how it is supposed to fit, how it's supposed to look, then this is what you come here for because we take care of people and we have a level of knowledge you can't find on the internet."
(© 2017 WBIR)