At age 81, hat store owner decides to open for one more Derby

kward1@herald-leader.comApril 30, 2013 

  • Kentucky Derby 139

    When: 6:24 p.m.
    TV: WLEX-18 (NBC)

Lucille Jackson just can't get over her love of selling hats.

She said last year would be her final year, but here she is during Derby week opening her shop, Hunter's Hatters in downtown Lexington, once again.

"I decided to do it one more time this year," said Jackson, 81.

Hunter's Hatters has been outfitting women for the Kentucky Derby since 1984.

Jackson recalls previous years in which her shop, at 140 Deweese St., was filled with a parade of women telling her their plans and asking her advice on the perfect hat to complement their dresses.

She's never been to the Derby herself, but she has reveled in her customers' excitement.

"Everybody's full of joy," she said. "They go in groups and they have so much fun."

In the past several years, things have slowed down. Jackson said the economic downturn changed the way women shop.

"They see that they can live without it," she said.

What women want to wear has changed, too.

"I grew up in an era where women did not go to luncheons, or a wedding, or church, without a hat," Jackson said.

Even a shopping trip downtown used to require a hat and gloves, but today's fashions, she said, "glorify the casual."

Jackson began keeping regular hours only during the weeks leading up to Derby.

This year, things have been particularly difficult.

After Jackson filled her shop with hats, she got sick and spent most of last week in the hospital, unable to open.

"It seems like everything has turned to Jell-O," Jackson said.

On Tuesday, her first day of business, no one came in during one span of more than an hour. With Derby just four days away, Jackson didn't have private appointments lined up with customers like she has had in years past.

"You're stepping out on a limb," she said, "because that's what you like to do and love to do."

Jackson, a retired teacher, described how, before she fell in love with selling hats, she loved teaching first-graders to read.

"I had a hard time getting school out of my craw," she said. "You get attached."

Jackson said she plans to open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in hopes that women will come, just as they once did.

"For some reason, they love to run in at the last minute," she said. "They come in from everywhere, and that part I will truly miss."

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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