Hill Village Store closing: Villagers tease out a fond farewell to 'the best (and only) food in Hill'

Sunday News Correspondent
June 17. 2017 6:06PM
Gary Fouts has owned and operated the Hill Village Store for nearly 17 years, but he's closing up shop on June 30. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)

HILL - With tears, laughter and much teasing, the community is bidding goodbye to Gary Fouts and the Hill Village Store, which after 76 years of operation will close on June 30.

Located on Route 3A in the heart of Hill Village, the place is part convenience store, part take-out restaurant and all community center, with Fouts, who has been behind the counter for nearly 17 years, knowing just about every customer by name.

The Hill Village Store, Fouts was fond of saying, had "the best food in Hill," before adding slightly less loudly that it had the only food in Hill available for purchase.

A decidedly colorful New Hampshire character, Fouts, 69, is actually from below the Mason-Dixon Line, born in Lebanon, Tenn., and raised in Murfreesboro.

In 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served with a recruit who was from Ashland.

With a furlough coming up, the men, now friends, decided to flip a coin to determine where they should spend their off-time, and although he doesn't remember whether the coin came up heads or tails, the result was that Fouts found himself in the Granite State.

"I loved it. It was the first time I saw a snow shovel or a plow on a truck, and I stayed," said Fouts. He married a local girl, and in 1973 went to work at the former IPC - now Freudenberg - manufacturing plant in Bristol.

He left IPC in 2000 and then bought the Hill Village Store.

Filled with train memorabilia; photos of the dozen soldiers, sailors and marines who first visited his store as toddlers; and numerous sardonic, sarcastic signs, images and displays that indicate his long-standing disdain for politicians of most stripes - "We hate everybody here," - the Hill Village Store is the kind of place that prompts lively discussions.

The store is the place where the real news in town gets shared, said Donna and Dan Irving, who told Fouts on Wednesday that while they heard the store was closing, they wanted to hear it directly from Fouts.

"He's a good guy," said Donna Irving, adding that beneath Fouts' brusque exterior there is a "Teddy bear." "Lovable," her husband interjected.

Fouts hoped something would happen that would allow him to keep the store open - such as winning the lottery or finding an ingot of gold. But those things never happened, and so on Monday Fouts announced on Facebook that the store was closing.

The past 17 years, were a "great run" he wrote, thanking "all the regulars that kept it fun and interesting! End of an era for sure, but everything comes to an end!"

Selling the store means Fouts now gets to spend more time with Brenda, his wife of 33 years.

"I've never shut anything down," said Fouts, so selling the store will be tough emotionally.

The demise of the business began with the Great Recession, but it was in 2012 - when the gas station across the street shut down and its underground storage tanks removed - that Fouts knew that "the final nail" had been struck in its coffin.

Fouts said he'll miss the daily interaction with people but not the responsibility of being in the store seven days a week.


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