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After 81 years, Hill's Department Store in Colebrook is closing

Union Leader Correspondent

July 13. 2017 1:11AM
In business since 1936, Hill's Department Store on Main Street in Colebrook, is closing. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

COLEBROOK — The oldest and last family-clothing store in the upper North Country is closing.

A mainstay of Main Street since 1936, the Hill’s Department Store is in the midst of a soft shut down that George Gooch on Tuesday said may last into late fall.

“I will miss a lot,” he said about the business, which sold high-quality, name brand men’s, women’s and children’s clothing as well as shoes, linens, fabric, yarn and sewing patterns.

Gooch has owned Hill’s since 1990, when he bought it from his father Robert.

“But I got tied down six days a week, so I’m missing out on a lot of different things,” he said, like spending time with his wife Nancy, their three children and their grandchildren in North Carolina. “It’s time for a change.”

Eighty-one years ago, Charles Hill opened the store that continues to bear his name. The 2,700-square-foot building in which the store is located also features a four-lane bowling alley in the basement, now used for storage and offices, Gooch said.

Robert Gooch was the manager of Hill’s from 1958 until 1965 when he purchased the business; he bought the building 16 years later. Robert Gooch retired nine years later and “I’ve had it since then,” said George Gooch, who cumulatively has worked at the store for 40 years.

A member of the Colebrook community since 1958, Gooch said much has changed in town since then, including the 2009 closing of the Ethan Allen furniture plant in nearby Beecher Falls, Vt., and the 2011 shuttering of The Balsams Resort in Dixville.

The local timber industry also has suffered, Gooch said, adding “It’s definitely becoming a different world.”

With 30-year clerk Louise Roy looking on, Jim Kephart of Willow River, MN completes a purchase July 10 at Hill’s Department Store. George Gooch, who has owned the store since 1990, recently announced that it is closing. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

Hill’s closing, he said, “probably doesn’t help” downtown Colebrook, which is in the midst of a multimillion dollar infrastructure project. It also might lose the state liquor store there, which may move to a larger space north of town. Nonetheless, he is cautiously optimistic that “if the Balsams ever gets going, things could get a little busy.”

Gooch is also leaving open the possibility that Hill’s might somehow get a new lease on life, but for now he has a close-out sale to oversee.

“I don’t have any set time or anything,” he said. “It’d be nice if we were sold out by Thanksgiving but it’s a new experience for me.”

Since announcing that Hill’s is closing, the store has been fairly busy, said Gooch, who thanked his wife, longtime employee Louise Roy and customers for the success Hill’s has enjoyed.

“People were a little surprised” at first, Gooch said, but since the announcement they’ve come to say their goodbyes and to stock up on some good buys.

“We’ve had customers come in here from away” — which is how North Country residents describe non-natives — “and they remember this kind of store in their hometown,” he said.

On Monday, one of those folks from “away” was Jim Kephart from Willow River, Minn., who is traveling across the Northeast with his wife Margot and their dog Roxi.

After reading that Hill’s was closing, Kephart made a beeline for the store and ended up buying several items.

Hill’s was like the stores he grew up with, Kephart said, but “one of the main reasons I came in is that this is a small-time department store” where the emphasis is on service and the pace is slower and more genteel.

Kephart, who is retired, said he doesn’t miss the immediacy of ordering a product online and having it delivered overnight.

“I don’t care when it comes in,” Kephart said, before leaving, satisfied with his purchase from Hill’s.

Business General News Colebrook

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