Expansive selection and spacious aislesThe last people left me in the dark for so long. They packed up their signs, emptied their shelves, turned off the lights. And then, the drafts blew in, echoes in the long, long night. I was empty, dark, and creepy. I felt so alone, a monstrosity near the lakes waiting for inhabitants, waiting to be given new life.

And then Jim Hiller bought me and remade me in his vision. I am the Union Lake store, the seventh Hiller’s market.

It was a long journey from my former existence to what I am today. I am sometimes amazed at how a structure of bricks and mortar, built to withstand elements, offer shelter, and fulfill needs, can be either a glaring error or a beacon of low-lit warmth. The process of change is one that cannot be rushed, one that is guided by heated discussion around an oval table and long hammering nights under glaring light.

Captain's TablePeople drove by me perhaps in anticipation, perhaps not wondering at all what I would become, how I would factor into their convenient lives. They may not have seen me at all along Commerce Road and Union Lake Road, on their busy ways to somewhere else.

From the outside, I was like a pursed mouth, not revealing my secrets, not speaking a word. But inside, I teemed with energy as I took shape, my shelves pushed into place, my little worlds come alive under the vision of a team of dedicated people.

I came to love Victor more than the rest, for he was the man who spent every day of a year with me, barking orders, massaging my walls alive, supervising stroke upon stroke of paint until I shone. From my ceiling unfurled banners and flags, symbols of a community of people come together inside my embrace.

I became the hulking hold for little neighborhood shops, giving character to the diurnal. At my open jaw, a captain’s table as running narrative. My whisk-white dairy aisles, in perfect order and formation, supreme variety and selection. But that’s the Hiller’s hallmark.

In my former life, I was nothing but a store, a place people buzzed into out of necessity. Under Victor’s careful watch, implementing the Hiller vision, I became a gathering place for community to build. I became a possessor of options, of flavors and tastes.

Victor represents Hiller’s to me. His waves of salt and pepper hair, his shy smile beneath blond mustache, his urgent listing meander up and down my aisles, form a portrait of someone who’s fashioned a life inside the framework of a mission. He has been a Hiller’s man for 45 years.

the freshest meat in townI’ve heard the story: how he came to America from Italy in 1952 and became part of the Hiller’s family in 1963. How Sid Hiller offered him $1.89 an hour to manage produce, even though he’d been earning $2.19 at another grocery. How after two weeks, Sid raised his pay. How he worked his way through department jobs, store management, every shift and task, until he ascended the ladder to chief of operations – and got the chance to build me.

I could see in his eyes how much he loved the challenge of creating a beautiful something out of an unfortunate nothing. I was clay in his hands. He threaded my veins with wires and pipes and at the end, Victor threw in among the hourly workers stocking my shelves with boxes, jars, cartons, and promises.

So many delectables to choose from...I opened quietly on a warm spring day. The first tentative people peeked inside to see what I offered. They walked slowly among my colorful rows. They saw that I was a perfect partner who understood their choices, understood their right to choose a way of living, didn’t judge their choices.

“Give the customer what they ask for,” says Victor, quoting Sid Hiller, his first mentor. That’s what I can do. If you’ll let me.


Vision — 5 Comments

  1. Hiller’s Market is not only a great place to shop, but it’s a great place to be employed. I feel very grateful to be working in the Union Lake meat department. Mr. Hiller is a great guy, and it’s an honor to be apart of the Hiller’s family.

  2. I absoutely love Hillers of Ann Arbor. I live in Ypsilanti and every chance that I head toward Washtenaw and Carpnter I always stop. My husband who retired in January thought he should help me out because I still work, and do the grocery shopping (EEEK!). I was not really excited about this idea because he is a hurry in and out of the store kind of guy and when I told him he had to go to Hillers he really resisted. He wanted to go where he wanted to go and I told him if he could not shop where I wanted him to, then he could not shop. He gave in. I gave him the weekly sale paper, a detailed list and gave him a general layout of the store. I wanted to make sure he would not get overwhelmed so I limited his first list. He called me from the store because he could not find something (Men don’t ask for directions, remember) and I told him where it was. I expected a call from him shortly after the first call because I know his patience limits. No call. Two hours and a short list later, he called and told me how much fun he had and did I know that Hillers had ….. and he went on to explain every thing he saw and how he liked the store, how clean it was and did I ever check out what was in all the cases in the back of the store! Suprise! I have to laugh to my self when I hear Ron tell his friends about Hillers and that they really should go there, how nice the store is, all the things they have and on and on… Needless to say, we really like Hillers and the shopping experience we have when ever we go. We are never disappointed.

  3. I love the new Union Lake store. I shop there every week and find something new to make for dinner. Everyone is very friendly and helpful. Except for one time, all the sale items were always available and in good supply. I love the remodelling done since Farmer Jacks moved out and the store is very warm and inviting. I wish Hillers good luck in the community. I know it took much longer than normal to open but after shopping here, it was worth the wait to have such a nice store in the neighborhood.

  4. I have to chuckle at current radio ads that emphasize how the management is going to “help” us weather this recession storm and “reclaim our future”. I just want to know how do you reclaim (past tense verb) something that hasn’t happened yet, like the future??? Is this like reefing the sail after it has blown out in the storm? I’m still at a loss at how this grocery store will reclaim the jobs/infrastructure that have been lost in Michigan. You must be in for one heckuva expansion program.

  5. Your analogy to reefing too late is interesting yet incorrect. We
    aren’t overpowered with breeze; we are trying to find enough to keep
    moving. Getting to our collective destination of a Michigan steeped in
    prosperity and hope requires us to pile on the sails, including the
    spinnaker. We need to take what little wind we find and make the best
    use of it. I’m trying to pile more people onboard for the journey. If
    the time comes that the breeze builds to the point where a reef is
    called for, we will deal with that by adding more ballast. (Read that as
    adding more good Michigan jobs.)

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