Hills was still going strong in Buffalo 20 years ago. This is Hills Plaza, Delaware Avenue near Hertel Avenue in 1998.
Just the mention of the name Hills conjures up smells of popcorn and roller dogs, washed down with an Icee, of course. Through the ’80s and ’90s, this was the time of year when Hills was usually the cheapest place to buy back-to-school supplies. From generic sneakers to spiral-bound notebooks with the Hills discounted price emblazoned in the top right corner, kids like me would sometimes try to think of creative ways to obscure the fact that we hadn’t done our shopping at more fashionable retailers.
Hills was in Buffalo for about 20 years. In 1979, there were two Hills stores in Western New York. Store number 77 was in Garden Village Plaza (French and Union roads) in Cheektowaga, and store number 79 was on George Urban Boulevard (at Dick Road) in Depew (until recently, a Hobby Lobby location).
There were 11 Hills locations around Western New York in 1984, making the discount retailer just about ubiquitous — and a likely stop for most Western New York shoppers over the 20 years the company operated here.
By the time the local Hills stores were bought out by Ames in 1999, there were 10 Hills locations. With a combined 20 stores, Ames closed its local outlets in 2002.
This particular Hills location was torn down in 2007 to make way for a Kohl’s store, which was built on the Hills lot plus the lot created when the northern half of an old Tops store was also torn down. The southern half of that Tops store remains today as a Big Lots.
Before Hills and Tops, there were strawberry patches along Delaware Avenue, next to the vine-covered abandoned factory ruins the neighborhood kids called “The Hidden City.” That structure was once a part of the American Radiator Co., which was fronted on Elmwood Avenue.
American Radiator’s coal pulverizing unit was among the outbuildings put up on lands that had even earlier served as part of a New York Central railroad stop for the Pan American Exposition.