King of the Hills : Hills Supermarket
Story by Claire K Connelly
Photography By Genie Leigh Photography
Hills Supermarket in Shallotte, one of five independent Hills stores in the Carolinas, is the perfect combination of small-town flavor, modern convenience and superb customer service.
Owner Dewey Hill, who purchased the Shallotte store in 1975, learned at an early age what the food business is all about. His father, Otto Hill, was a Columbus County farmer who also operated a food store from the 1920s until the 1950s. The store sold groceries, farming supplies and equipment and was well known in the Whiteville community. Hill helped out in the store, and his love of the food business was born.
After finishing high school, Hill joined the Navy for a two-year period. Following his military service he returned to the family store and expanded his involvement in the food business.
In 1991 Hill became a Democratic member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and served 10 terms. In the early years he represented the counties of Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Robeson. In 2012 he decided not to seek re-election but had no thoughts of retiring. He returned to his involvement with the Hills stores and with Hillcrest Corporation, a commercial realty company located in Whiteville.
During his service in the General Assembly, Hill was highly regarded for always being mindful of the needs of hard-working people, coastal issues and the economy in general. His level of caring for the community has always been high, and that attitude transfers to the shopping experience at his stores.
Hill strongly believes that his employees should be involved with the daily business like close family members, rather than being just a name on the employee list. The employees have a friendly rapport with the customers, emphasizing that caring attitude.
Jason Bernier is the store manager in Shallotte. He relocated to this area from a small coastal Maine town. His first job in a Hills store was in Whiteville in the year 2000. Bernier says the Shallotte store is ideal for him, as it reminds him of the small-town atmosphere of his hometown in Maine. His pleasant, relaxed attitude and ongoing smile reflect his love of the store, fellow employees and customers.
Hills has always strived to serve its customers with the best and freshest products with the best value pricing. Ongoing relationships with local produce vendors reinforce the policy of having the freshest produce available, and returning money into the economy is an added bonus for all. Hills also does its best to provide exactly what customers are looking for, right down to chicken, rabbit and alligator feed.
Hill believes that if people are fairly treated they will keep returning as loyal customers. In that vein Hills offers the Our Family store brand and believes it offers considerable savings for their customers. Many customers have commented on making the transition to store brands from their forever favorites, which were often passed on to them from grandmothers and mothers.
Hill guarantees that his small-town supermarket always has large ambitions with the daily desire to make things better for the customers. He also loves helping the community and has long provided assistance and donations to community food banks, church groups and other nonprofit organizations.
Hill shared an experience that has remained with him for many years regarding his very first store and his love for helping others. The store budget was tight. Prior to Christmas he purchased 25 Christmas trees to sell in his store. On Christmas Eve there remained one lonely tree, which he described as ugly, almost without needles, shapeless and totally hopeless. Into the store came a man who asked about this tree and expressed a sincere interest in purchasing it. He shyly asked, “How much?” Hill took inventory of the situation in his usual caring way and responded: “How about 50 cents?” SOLD! He remembers that they were probably the two happiest men in the town that Christmas Eve.
For me, shopping at Hills brings back memories of early Saturday mornings holding my Dad’s hand as we visited the small food and meat market in our New England town. Hills’ charm and conveniences made it an enjoyable stop in my day.