Not sure what Buffalonians will have more fun remembering: Hills or gas prices at $1.13.
Buffalo News archives
The shopping plaza known as the Clarence Mall, complete with empty Ames, G&G Fitness and Burlington Coat Factory stores, was bulldozed in 2005 when the name was changed to the Shops at Main/Transit.
Barnes & Noble, Old Country Buffet and Bed, Bath, & Beyond now fill the retail strip between the Eastern Hills Mall and Main Street along Transit.
Bells Markets and Liberty Shoes were among the stores at the Clarence Mall in 1981.
When the Clarence Mall held its grand opening in 1967, ads called the place “the shopping plaza of superlatives.”
Grant City, the fourteenth store in the W.T. Grant chain, was by far the largest at 135,000 square feet when it opened. The 30,000-square-foot Park Edge grocery store that opened at the plaza was the largest in Western New York, with “the area’s largest dairy case,” measuring 80 feet long with four levels.
If you were getting ready for Christmas in 1985, one place you were likely to turn to figure out what you wanted or what you wanted to buy was the weekly Hills ad.
There were eleven Hills location 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.
If you were a kid in the 1990s, a pair of Nikes or Reeboks didn’t make you any smarter or help you perform better on standardized tests.
A pair of name-brand sneakers, however, may have helped you feel equal to (or maybe even superior to) your peers.
There was a sort of sneaker caste system in most places. Nike’s Air Jordans were at the top. Then came a host of lesser brand names, followed by store brands — ranked in order of the coolness of the store, of course.
From personal experience, I can say with unflinching certitude that the lowest sneaker caste was filled with those purchased at K-Mart. I didn’t really care that my sneakers came from K-Mart or Hills, and in fact, I actually felt some pride in that my footwear cost somewhere around $11.94, while the Reebok Pumps or Jordans were in the $70 range. Still, it only takes one or two comments to give even the most steel-willed individualist a complex.
By the mid-’90s, K-Mart had dropped the brand names Trax and Athletix — which occasionally marred my otherwise idyllic 1980s grammar school life — but Spaulding, Everlast and MacGregor still remained.
Luckily, by the time I was in high school, and by the time this ad came out, I had switched to wearing shoes more than sneakers. Still, one can’t help but think about how many kids wearing their Skechers (which used to be cool, kids) clipped this ad to know which sneakers — and which kids — to target.
With the country in the grips of an economic crisis and inflation crippling Buffalonians, Hills, “The Anti-Inflation Department Store,” was opening two new stores in Western New York.
The ribbon was cut at the Sheridan/Bailey location by Amherst supervisor and former WEBR Traffic reporter Jack Sharpe. The store became Ames in 1999 and closed in 2002. Walmart opened on the site in 2011.
The same day, a Hills store was opened on Lake Avenue in Blasdell, between South Park Avenue and the New York State Thruway. That store remains vacant.
“Hills Department Stores scored a second ‘first’ in the Buffalo area today. For the second time, the chain opened two new department stores on the same day.”
People love to remember Hills, and I get it. I love to remember Hills, too.
Hills is where your grandma bought you an Icee and a popcorn. You may have got your first bike, Cabbage Patch Kid, or Michael Jackson record there. And it goes without saying (singing), Hills is where the toys are. And of course, most importantly, Hills is not WalMart.
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 Rds) in Cheektowaga, and store number 79 was on George Urban Blvd (at Dick) in Depew (today a Hobby Lobby location).
In 1999, 10 out of the 11 Western New York Hills stores became Ames, when Ames bought out Hills to become the nation’s 4th largest discount retailer. (Ames closed for good in 2002.)
Two decades of great memories. But here’s the thing. Hills wasn’t that great. It was terrible, in fact. It was dirty. All the toys were always open and all over the place.
I got my red GE fake Walkman at Brand Names, but I shopped for cassettes at Hills. For $5.97, you basically had to sort through every cassette in the record department, because they were always out of order and jammed back into the wrong spots. Good luck trying to find a Young MC tape (Y) when it’s hidden behind Belinda Carlisle (C) in the slot marked (J).
And up until the very end, they didn’t take credit cards. No cash or no check and a drivers license, meant you had to put back the VHS copy of “The Bodyguard” you were buying to impress your girlfriend.
“C’mon, I loved Hills,” you might be screaming at your computer. You may love it now, but you didn’t then. A survey taken right before Hills closed showed WNYers preferred K-Mart (#1) and WalMart (#2) by a wide margin over Hills.
Hills wasn’t that great, but neither was your mom’s 1983 Chevette with naugahyde seats and AM radio which carted you and your brother to Hills.
I live to jog people’s memories, and reminiscing every now and again is a good thing. It’s also good, though, to put it in context with how good we really have it right now.
Anyway, ‘member Hills?
Now I can’t wait to read the comments for people to talk about Twin Fair, Two Guys, Gold Circle and Brand Names.
This post originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com
I can imagine the grandfather who would have worn this cap buying his grandchild a popcorn and Icee while pumping a quarter into the horse ride in the front vestibule at Hills while grandma was inside buying housecoats.
After agreeing to give a lecture at Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery about some of the city’s great retailers of the past, I was deluged with people offering up their memories, and thirsty for the memories of the stores of Buffalo’s grand old stores.