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Walnut Street losing its Hat and Gown

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

By Teresa F. Lindeman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

William Penn Hat and Gown, a clothing store that outfitted Pittsburgh women for the entire 20th century, is going out of business.

The venerable Shadyside boutique will put its inventory on sale this weekend and probably close its doors within 30 to 60 days, said Richard Rattner, whose family has owned the business since 1970. The store's 20 employees were notified this week.

William Penn's future has been uncertain since late last year when local developer Tony Ross purchased the 5400 block building on Walnut Street that has housed the store since 1980. Tenants were notified early this year their leases would not be renewed because a new 15,000-square-foot retail building is planned on the site.

Rattner said the family considered moving but that would have cost between $225,000 and $500,000. "Basically, it came down to economics," he said. The family decided the Pittsburgh market for an upscale women's clothing store wasn't strong enough to justify the investment.

Another factor was the death of Rattner's father in December. Joseph E. Rattner had purchased the store with his wife, Marilyn Hoffman Rattner, after retiring as president of Thrift Drug. "It was a business my father really loved," said his son.

At 71, Joseph Rattner was active at the boutique until his death. If the store had been able to stay in the same location, the family might have kept it going awhile longer.

But Richard Rattner, 38, is interested in moving on to another venture that he's not ready to talk about yet. His brother, Stuart Rattner, 33, also will begin looking for new opportunities.

The clothing store traces its roots back 105 years to a boutique started Downtown. Rattner said after some time in the William Penn Hotel, the store eventually moved to the former Alcoa building now known as the Regional Enterprise Tower. The family made the switch to the 5,000-square-foot space in Shadyside when subway construction threatened to block the entrance for an indefinite period of time.

William Penn Hat and Gown has carried clothing lines such as St. John, Cherrutti 1881 and Lafayette 148.

Rattner, who serves as vice president of the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, has enjoyed working on Walnut Street. "Shadyside has been wonderful," he said.

William Penn Hat and Gown is the second venerable Pittsburgh women's store to go out of business in the past year. Adeles, a 60-year fixture in Squirrel Hill, announced its closing in December. There had been talk at the time that William Penn might buy Adeles, but that didn't happen.

The future of other tenants in the 5400 block of Walnut isn't clear. The building also houses merchants such as Toadflax and Mardi Gras.

Rattner said a flier about his store's closing was going out to about 2,200 customers, and he expects to hear from many who've been shopping there for years. Mary Lou Alexander, an employee of more than 50 years, has been promised the job of locking the doors for the last time.

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