LA PLUME – Bill Hillier began working with carpeting and accompanying his contractor father on flooring assignments in and around Scranton when he was just 12 years old. Three years later, he soloed on his first installation.
“It was a porch job,” Hillier, 54, recalled. “My father said he had to leave to go pick something up. He never came back. It was all planned; he wanted to see if I could handle it myself.”
Hillier succeeded on that porch, and has spent the last 42 years earning a living through carpeting and sheet vinyl and laminates. For most of that time, he was a subcontractor for flooring stores in the area. He also put down flooring inside modular homes as they were assembled in a factory.
Until last month, Hillier Carpeting Service had been run out of a utility van. Hillier opened his first showroom at 2053 State Route 6/11 on May 10 in a building that had previously hosted a consignment shop and jewelry business.
Hillier’s flooring enterprise occupies one side of the shop, while B & B’s Gifts – a business operated by his wife, Barb – takes up the other half.
“Our dream was always to open up a store,” Bill Hillier said.
Many of the samples inside Hillier’s flooring showroom came from Ken Mar Home Furnishings, a Meshoppen store that closed last year after the retirement of its owners.
“They were going to throw this stuff out,” Hillier said, running a hand across a rectangular sample of brown shag from Shaw Flooring which is sold under the New York Ave. III brand name.
Ken Mar provided Hillier with most of his samples, but Ken Mar’s closing also prompted Hillier to follow through on his plan to open a retail store. Hillier had received many jobs from Ken Mar over the years. Customers would pick out flooring in Meshoppen, and the store would dispatch Hillier to perform the installation.
Now, customers make their floorcovering selections at the showroom in La Plume. It is a small operation. Hillier is often assisted on installation jobs by a nephew Ed Thomas. On a recent Friday afternoon, Thomas was working the checkout counter at B & B’s Gifts.
The showroom contains samples of laminates and sheet vinyl, and many swatches of commercial and residential carpeting. Carpets are Hillier’s main line. He does not do hardwood or ceramic floors.
“We power-stretch all carpet,” Hillier said.
A power-stretcher uses expandable poles, which are braced against the baseboard on the opposite side of the room, to get the carpeting tightly stretched in place without any ripples. The head of the power stretcher has teeth which grab the carpeting when a fulcrum arm is pushed down. It is more efficient than the knee-kickers traditionally used on carpeting jobs, because the installer is free to move about without having to keep a knee against the kicker.
Before the joint stores opened last month, the other half of the operation, B & B Gifts, had operated for about two years inside the Sugarman’s flea market in Eynon. The couple decided to combine both stores at La Plume as a way to make staffing and resupplying easier. They signed a lease in September last year, eight months before the opening.
“With the family and everything else, it was just hard to get it going,” Bill Hillier said. “We didn’t have the time.”
The Hilliers live in Dimock, about 45 minutes away from their new retail center. They have six children.
Walking through the gift shop, Bill Hillier tried to describe the inventory. “It’s nothing in particular. It’s a variety of everything,” he said. “We look at whatever we can get a good deal on to pass on to somebody else.”
The store’s stock recently included knives, specialty plates, rings, necklaces, boxes of toothpaste, wicker baskets, marker lights for trailers, fishing gear, candles and some antiques. Also in the vintage inventory was an empty canister that once held Tinkertoys. The tube dated to the 1960s, when the company was owned by the Spalding sporting goods company.
Late last month, after the stores had been open for a few weeks, Hillier admitted trade has been slow. He was getting phone calls about carpeting jobs, but they were through referrals and not visits to his showroom.
He believes business will improve. As more passersby on busy State Route 6/11 see the stores, he is certain some will come inside to ask about floorcoverings. And when the summer-home people arrive in the area, there will be more customers for the gift shop.
“I know it’s going to come, the business,” he said. “It just takes time.”