Do you remember when newspapers were the source for news back in the day? Yes, you could catch the national nightly news on your television set but if your family had a subscription to a small town newspaper, the news was personalized to you. Local happenings, local police reports, local obituaries, sales at local businesses; sadly, most consumers never preserved their newspapers and were either set ablaze in the backyard burn barrel or became a barrier between old glassware stored in your grandparent’s attic.
The nostalgia in my soul has recently led me down the rabbit hole of old newspapers. Thankfully, modern technology has given me the opportunity to follow this trail with my laptop at home instead of a microfiche projector at the library. My perspective of digging through old newspapers has also changed. This experience while I was young meant doing research for school assignment while now, my eyes are opened to the history of that moment in time. Thanks to Google’s newspaper archive I’ve found a few publications that are relatively close to the newspaper experience I remember, growing up in Central PA in the ’80s.
One of the biggest things that contribute to newspaper nostalgia are the advertisements. Local business ads like grocery stores, banks, and car dealers can be relatable to just about everyone but are more personal to natives of that newspaper’s area. What I believe are the best ads to stoke up nostalgia are the ones for defunct retailers who had stores across multiple states or even nationwide. My favorites are from department stores or malls because I treasured those trips as a kid. Visiting the toy aisles, eating a special treat, and hiding among the racks of clothes is what I lived for back then. One of my favorites was Hills Department Store.
My nostalgia for Hills Department Store was chronicled on an early episode of TRN Podcast, but the short version is Hills was truly “where the toys are.” The closest one to me was a good 30-minute trip in the car so it felt like special occasion when I visited. Perusing through the Observer-Reporter archive from the 1983-84 era and finding Hills Department Store newspaper ads has been such a fun experience. And while Hills had over 100 stores primarily in the Eastern region of the United States, I hope you will enjoy the ads below on some level even if you aren’t familiar with the store.
You could never have enough denim back in the ’80s. A few things stood out to me in these denim ads (other than the accentuated back pockets.) First, the Hills logo is so iconic to me. Even in a black and white newspaper scan, it seems to pop off the page. I also remembered the “Check us out!” phrase with the checkmark that was featured on Hills sales papers and sung in their television jingle. What I didn’t remember was the slogan “No need to wait for a sale. Ever.” It’s a bold statement when your competitor’s like Kmart, JC Penney, and Montgomery Ward do nothing but run sales ads. I know Hills marked inventory on clearance (bought a M.A.S.K. Boulder Hill playset that way) but advertising low prices without the “% Off” is a much more direct sales approach.
This ad was a little surprising to me coming from an August 1983 newspaper. I had not remembered that the “Made in the USA” movement or awareness had started this early. Later in the ’80s, it became more prominent in PSA advertisements with celebrities. It seems Hills was a “Made in the USA” trend-setter or got in early by advertising it. It was also great to see that Hills had a woman as their consumer affairs manager in 1983 and featured her in the ad. That also seems uncommon for the time.
Before there was Game Stop, there was the Parker Brothers Trade-In Rebate. Activision games were mainly what I owned on Atari 2600, but Parker Brothers had a great selection of games. I had not remembered this rebate which gave you $15 trade value on one of your games when you purchased two new games.
SIGN ME UP! I do not remember ever participating in what essentially is a fall Easter egg hunt. Searching for pumpkins filled with Halloween candy in a parking lot full of straw sounds like heaven. And what could make the event more appealing? Some of the pumpkins contained Hills gift certificates, which at the time was like finding a G.I. Joe figure or Gobot vehicle inside your pumpkin!
Remember a time when you didn’t think twice about writing your name, address, and phone number on a card and dropping it into a raffle box at a store? This sweepstakes was a unique way to get foot traffic in a non-grocery store around Thanksgiving, again, without advertising a sale.
The ultimate way to get foot traffic at Thanksgiving was, of course, a meet-and-greet with Santa! But that wasn’t even the predominant gimmick in this ad. Hills’ mascot around Christmastime was Spryte, one of Santa’s elves. He was featured in this coloring contest image which gave Hills gift certificates and Spryte merchandise to the winners. (Excuse me while I head to eBay for a minute.)
Remember when layaway was a thing? I remember my mother using layaway to purchase Christmas gifts when they were on sale and then would come back near Christmastime to pick them up. I imagine it was a headache for employees to not only warehouse the layaway items but then find them when customers came back months later to retrieve them.
I also have nostalgia for old cameras. Seeing this Christmas add for Kodak cameras takes me back to the days of film and flash bars and Fotomat stores. It’s getting more difficult to remember a time when you had to wait for days to find out if your Dad held the camera still when he took that picture of you and Santa.
This ad is by far my favorite among this bunch and what I would call the perfect representation of Hills Department Store newspaper ads around Christmas. The “Hills is where the toys are” slogan and jingle has resonated with me since I was a kid, singing it in the back seat of our car trips to the store. Some of my favorites are represented in the image like Masters of the Universe figures, a Hot Wheels Sto-N-Go playset, a Tonka crane, and Stomper trucks. Also included are Strawberry Shortcake figures, Monopoly, Barbie dolls, Care Bears, and Fisher-Price See ‘N Say. What a GLORIOUS ad!
I’ll be on the hunt for more Hills Department Store newspaper ads and other ads to share on The Retro Network in the future.