Hills (store)

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Hills Department Stores
Industry Retail
Fate Merged into Ames
Successor(s) Ames Department Stores
Founded 1957 Youngstown, Ohio
Defunct 1998
Headquarters Canton, Massachusetts
Products Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, seasonal, beauty products, electronics, toys, and housewares.

Hills Department Store was a Canton, Massachusetts, based discount department store chain. 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 had made a push into other economies in the 1980s. It pushed further south and had several stores in Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama and west into Michigan.

History[edit]

Beginning[edit]

In the late 1950s, Hills stores were full-fledged department stores (as opposed to the discount department stores for which the chain later became known).

Herbert H. Goldberger, the founder of Hills, sold the chain to SCOA Industries, (Shoe Company of America), of Columbus, Ohio, in 1964. He remained as president of Hills until 1981, when his son succeeded him. Goldberger was the vice president and director of SCOA when, in 1985, he led a management buyout of Hills.[1]

Hills went public in 1987, becoming the nation's eighth-largest discount retailer. In November 1990, Goldberger's son resigned, according to a Hills statement, and was replaced by Jack Brouillard. Goldberger's resignation from his family business surprised some observers. He had been the chain's president and CEO since 1981, and assumed the role of board chairman when his father died in 1987. Stephen Goldberger also introduced several other changes, including acceptance of credit cards and rollout of UPC scanning.

In 1989, Hills bought 35 of the Worthington, Ohio,-based Gold Circle locations. In the New York & Ohio area, many of these locations had previously been Twin Fair, Inc., stores prior to 1982.

Hills had its own private label under which various goods were marketed. It was called "American Spirit".[2]

Bankruptcy & Recovery[edit]

Hills Department Store Sign outside former Hermitage, Tennessee location.

Hills filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 1991, and the number of stores declined, from 214 to 151. Hills' financial woes date back to its 1985 leveraged buyout from the Shoe Corporation of America which saddled it with debt. The LBO was valued at $640 million. Debt mounted again in 1987 when Hills went public. The situation was further aggravated in 1989 when Hills acquired 33 former Gold Circle stores. A difficult economy followed by a recession in 1990–1991 dealt the chain a crushing blow.

Michael Bozic was brought in as President and CEO of Hills to revive the company. He had spent 27 years with Sears and had been the head of the Sears Merchandising Group.[3] Stores were remodeled, scheduled opening of distribution centers beginning in 1991, and the introduction of a new store prototype in 1991. Hills had a large toy section that accounted for more than 10% of sales throughout the year.[3] Hills achieved a notable recovery from bankruptcy in 1993 as Hills Stores Company.

Takeover & The Ames Acquisition[edit]

Former Hills location (left) at Northern Lights Shopping Center in Economy, Pennsylvania in 2014. Like many former Hills locations, it has been vacant since Ames' liquidation in 2002.

CEO Michael Bozic resigned, along with most of the senior executives, July 5, 1995, ending a tumultuous two-year siege for control of the regional discounter by Dickstein Partners, Hills' largest stockholder. Bozic was replaced by Jack Smailes, formerly the company's executive VP, GMM.

Dickstein resigned his post Feb. 8, 1996, replaced as chairman by Chaim Edelstein, a former chairman of A&S Department Stores. Dickstein's resignation as chairman was joined by that of Jack Smailes, president and CEO, who was replaced by Gregory Raven, who formerly served as chief financial officer of Revco Drug Stores. The 164-unit discounter then announced it would seek to acquire other regional discounters in the quest to become a larger, stronger operator.

It was a difficult two years for Greg Raven and Hills. Completely new systems were instituted. "We're taking every system we have and throwing them away," Raven said. The new focus would be on merchandising systems, new financial systems, human resources, payroll, payables and eventually a new warehouse management system. A reset of the hardlines section was completed, which included lopping off 4 ft. from the end of the gondola runs to create a power aisle with pallet presentations of "good values."

In December 1998, Ames acquired Hills. At that time Hills was operating 155 stores, covering 12 states, and employing in excess of 20,000 employees. Headquarters were in Canton, Massachusetts.[4] With the Hills acquisition, Ames expanded from 301 to 456 stores and became the nation's fourth-largest discount chain behind Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target. Almost all Hills stores were renamed Ames by the end of 1999, even in markets where Ames and Hills overlapped. Most of the overlap was in the Pittsburgh region, where Ames had acquired the G. C. Murphy chain based in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKeesport in 1985 and was an adjacent market to Hills' original market of Youngstown.

Slogans[edit]

"According to legend, little folk know, Hills is where the toys are!"

"Hills is the place for kids."

"When you really need a low price, Hills has it every day."

"Hills is GREAT for gifts."

"Christmas wishes come true at Hills."

"Hills is where the toys are."

"The anti-inflation department store."

"We're a different kind of department store- you oughta be shopping Hills! (Check us out!)"

"Hills Department Stores - Famous for Low Prices Everyday"

"Hills has the hits - LPs or Cassettes" (TV commercial jingle)

"Hills for Mom. Hills for Dad. Hills for the Family!"

Subsidiaries[edit]

Hills had various subsidiaries that handled some of the various operations: Hills Department Store Company, HDS Transport, CRH International, Canton Advertising, Corporate Vision and Hills Distributing Company.[5]

References[edit]