As a child growing up in the 1980’s, I was never shielded from the rampant consumerism this decade is well known for. The xmas holidays always conjure the sweetest childhood memories. One memory I hold pretty dear is that of shopping at the big department stores of the era. I remember Hills with a great deal of fondness. I spent hours in its toy aisles, which in my memories went on forever, stacked clear to the ceiling with all the latest and greatest. Here is a brief history.
Hills was a discount department store chain based in Canton, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1957 in Youngstown, Ohio,and existed until 1999 when it was acquired by Ames. Most stores were located in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, though the company did make a push into other markets. It pushed further south and had several stores in Virginia,
Tennessee, and Alabama and west into Michigan.
A pioneer in the discount store industry, Hills was, at on time, the eighth-largest
general merchandise discount retailer in the United States. Most of its stores were located in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. Toys were a Hills trademark. Most bigger discounters stocked up on toys near the holidays, then trimmed back again. Hills’s large year-round toy selection accounted for more than 10 percent of its sales. To make room, the company left items like sporting goods, appliances, automotive products, and lawn and garden supplies to its competitors. I can remember the HUGE aisles of toys every holiday. I also remember when Nintendo started to take over the world, Hills liquidated ATARI carts and i was able to get a ton cheaply. I remember well its coloring contests and elf commercials on TV.
Sadly, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1991, as it faced huge debt and aggressive competition from Wal-Mart and Kmart and a pack of bloodthirsty shareholders looking for a ton of money. The store was absorbed by the Ames company eventually and died a pitiful death as that company also went belly up.
The crumbling skeletons of the dead Hills stores remained for many years as Ames liquidated slowly and painfully.
I can recall my local store remained empty for many many years, as i would drive past and remember the joys
had by many inside, reminded always by the ever present shadowed, discolored, stained outline of that once glorious bright red Hills sign.