from Eyewitness News Online
Sept. 3, 1984 - Hills Department Store Opens On Patrick Street
By Heath Harrison
July 28, 2013
This week's "Remember When" is one of the most-requested topics our viewers have wanted us to cover
Hills Department Store was one of the leading discount chains in the U.S. when it arrived in Charleston.
Founded in Youngstown, Ohio in 1957 by Herbert H. Goldberger, the retailer was the eighth biggest chain in the nation at its peak in the 1980s, with the majority of its stores located in in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
As was the case with Heck's, Murphy's and other box stores of the era, Hills offered a variety of discounted merchandise, including clothes (the store carried it's own clothing brand, the American Spirit label), furnishings, tools, books, automotive supplies, electronics and other items.
But for children of the 1980s, the company is remembered fondly for its toy department, which accounted for 10 percent of the company's sales.
For a generation raised on G.I.Joe, Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids and My Little Pony, Hills was a favorite stop, with its well-stocked toy department decorated with diorama displays on the endcaps of the aisles. The company marketed heavily to kids with its "Hills is where the toys are" commercials featuring the Hills Sprite.
Hills made its move into the Charleston area with the grand opening of a Patrick Street location on Sept. 3, 1984.
Patrick Street had hosted Kmart and McDonald’s for several years, but in 1984, the shopping area was expanded all the way to the Kanawha River, making the entire location of the former Kelley Axe factory into retail space.
The new Hills Plaza also brought new locations for Big Bear, Burger King, Wendy’s and others to the area. Charleston’s other Hills store would open shortly after at the newly-opened Kanawha Mall.
The chain financial troubles began to appear not long after they arrived in Charleston. A 1985 leveraged buyout from the Shoe Corporation of America left the company with a substantial debt.
After a decade of financial struggles (including a 1991 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing which cut the number of stores from 214 to 151) Hills was acquired by Ames in 1998. Within a year, all remaining Hills location had been converted into Ames stores.
Ames would itself file for bankruptcy in 2001 and after a round of store closings, would shut down completely in 2002.
Links of interest:
- A 1987 commercial marking the company's 30th anniversary can be found on YouTube.
- A site detailing the store’s history can be found here.
- A Hills fanpage can also be found on Facebook.
- Another Hills Sprite commercial, this one advertising Laser Tag
This week's clip, courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives at the Culture Center, features a 1984 WCHS report on the grand opening of the Patrick Street Hills over the Labor Day weekend of that year. To share your memories of Hills, visit WCHS on Facebook
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