The hat making business is a tradition in a country like Ecuador, home of the world-renowned “Panama Hat”, (don’t get confused by its name, it’s 100% Ecuadorian!). And where the sun is extremely strong (especially in Quito), the use of a hat is essential.
Where can I buy Panama hats in Quito?
Panama hats can be easily found in Quito’s Old Town, however, if you’re looking for a place to purchase traditional toquilla hats, you can visit Sombrereria Benalcazar at Calle Benalcazar and 24 de Mayo. It’s a local Ecuadorian hat shop, run by the Anchala family, that has existed for more than 60 years.
On the outside, that subtle and humble entrance may go unnoticed, but once you cross it, you enter a ‘looking glass’ world of colors and artifacts. Hats, of course, dominate. You can find them in all sizes, colors and shapes stacked on top of the other on shelves and some even nailed on the walls.
There are berets, top hats, cowboy hats, Panama Hats, and the traditional ones worn in local festivities. Like the “Aruchico” hat – worn by a character of the San Juan and San Pedro fiesta – made of cloth and adorned with small mirrors and multicolored ribbons that cascade from the sides.
Masks are also the protagonists of the store. There are rows of masks hung on wires on the wall to the left. The peculiar masks depict politicians, devils, animals, clowns … Your sight sharpens inside Sombrereria Benalcazar: every corner, every shelf, every wall is decorated with hats and masks made by Cesar Anchala, the current owner of the family business (passed down from his father). His wife smiles behind the counter, greets and invites you to try the hats on. With patience, she takes each one out and is excited to see you wearing them.
Next to her, a small lady with black hair, a prominent nose and a shy look is also the one makes these hats and with a gesture of her hand, she beckons you to follow her into the back. You enter a room that shows the passage of time. The wall is cracked and the shelves hold even more hats and wooden tools. To one side, there’s an ancient radio.
Two framed portraits are hung on the wall and seem to look directly at you. It is the Anchala family: Cesar’s mother and father, the original owners. Above the portraits an old sign reads “Sombrereria Benalcazar”, below it: “We fix hats and berets”, in red and blue letters (the entrance of the shop already has a more “modern” sign indicating Cesar’s email).
In this peculiar room everything from the shop is created: hats, berets, masks … here the Cesar Anchala father made and filled that hat shop with unique artefacts that 60 years later continue to bring in loyal customers, despite their almost secret passageway in Calle Benalcazar.