Catering to what young people want has long been the secret of Hills of Kerrisdale’s success.
“My father’s always been very focused on appealing to what young people want because his feeling is, and I think he’s correct, it’s young people that buy things,” said Ross Hill, the 50-year-old president of Hills of Kerrisdale. “Older people tend to make do.”
The large 53-year-old Kerrisdale clothes shop near the intersection of West 41st Avenue and West Boulevard errs on drawing younger customers even though older customers sometimes complain that Hills carries nothing for them, Hill said, and last year was Hills’s best year yet.
“The interesting thing is you’d never wear the same jeans that your mother did [in decades past],” Hill added. “Now we’re borderline selling three generations the same jeans… The lines between age are blurred now.”
Hill says customers travel across the city to shop at the well-established business.
“If you grew up in Kerrisdale and went to Point Grey high school, you can’t really afford to live in the neighbourhood anymore,” he said.
Hills has not only had to focus on buying clothes and accessories youthful fashionistas want, but also to adapt to the influx of Asian newcomers to the West Side.
“I find that maybe that new customers are more international in focus, a little bit more worldly, more brand-oriented, wanting more international brands,” Hill said.
Hill’s grandfather John Hill spent his life in retail and bought Reid’s Dry Goods in Marpole in 1947. After the opening of the Oak Street Bridge destroyed the shopping district there, the family bought a dry goods shop in Kerrisdale in 1960 and changed the name to Hills. The shop moved to its present location in 1974.
Hills wasn’t a fashion store then, but Hill says his father, James Hill, was on top of stocking trendy jeans.
Hill and his sister Nancy are business partners in Hills, Blue Ruby Jewellery and Ray Rickburn men’s clothing on West Fourth Avenue. His brother Brian runs Artizia.
Hills owns its building in Kerrisdale, but that doesn’t keep Hill worry-free.
The former Hobbs gift shop space next door is vacant and unlike in a mall, there’s no one to oversee what the mix of businesses in the area should be.
Hill believes the biggest threat to Kerrisdale businesses in the next 10 years is commercial space at Oakridge Centre doubling.
“The latest in mall-dom is to create outdoor, curated streetscapes that are sort of new, fake, bland,” Hill said. “But they draw people there because they get the right businesses.”
He argues the city is increasingly allowing sterile and unproductive retail spaces to replace establishments that possessed true character. His example of this is the boxy new building that’s sprung up on Main Street where the funky, but fire-damaged Slickity Jim’s Chat ‘n’ Chew once stood.
“The city doesn’t truly understand how to create vibrant, dynamic neighbourhoods,” Hill said. “Here the city is pretending that the city loves neighbourhoods, but… their policies don’t jibe with they wish for.”
Hills can’t compete with the buying power of the Bay or the pricing of big discount or online retailers, so it has to focus on good service and smart buying.
“Everything’s competition whether it’s Granville Island, whether it’s Internet, whether it’s you deciding to take a job in Saskatchewan because real estate’s cheaper,” Hill said. “Do they kill you individually? No. Do they in unison work enough to change the face of existing business? Yeah. Nordstrom’s coming to Canada, that’s a big concern. So what do you do? Well, I suppose it forces you to get better.”