Denzil Bridges attended Trigg County High School and played football for the Wildcats. Throughout high school, Denzil worked for the Fort brothers in their grocery store. By Fort brothers, I am referring to the infamous Willie and Wilton. After graduating from Trigg County, Denzil attended Murray State. During his time at Murray, Denzil would continue to work weekends for the Forts in their grocery business. In 1952, Denzil entered the Navy and went on to serve for four years. Upon leaving the Navy in 1956, Denzil, James Mathis and Norris Mitchell bought Willie and Wilton’s downtown grocery and named it Quality Market. Denzil and his partners operated Quality Market from 1956 through 1963. Murl Sanders bought out the goods in Quality Market in 1963, and Denzil went to work for him at his Wallonia Market for one year. Then in 1966, Denzil went to work at Ft. Campbell.
Even though Denzil was going to work at Ft. Campbell, he had a dream of opening his own store. Therefore, around 1966, Denzil’s uncle Raymond Stallons and his son Glenn begin to lay the blocks for what was to become Hilltop Market. Hilltop Market was constructed in stages. First, there was the grocery, then the hardware store, followed by the garage and lastly the storage area. When all four phases were completed, what you had was one of the most unique stores in all of the state of Kentucky – and the nation, for that matter.
Hilltop was – and is – a family store. Denzil, along with his wife Ruth and their son Scott, ran the store together. Mr. Denzil passed away in 2002, and Ruth and Scott have manned the store since.
Let me tell you what makes Hilltop famous. THEY SELL EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING! You want personal testimony? Well, here you go. They sell groceries, hardware, plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, school supplies, fishing supplies, ammunition, minnows, crickets, other live bait, gas, yard statues, fertilizer and more. Heck, it would take me five pages to list everything they sell. You won’t believe it until you go there. Ask Scott to take you on the tour and it will amaze you.
About 25 years ago, there was a big snowstorm in Trigg County. Since there was no school, the Trigg County football coaches got together and out of boredom came up with a game called Who Can Stump Hilltop? Scott Bridges had played football, so the Trigg football staff were very familiar with the store. They took turns calling, without giving their names, and one by one would ask if Hilltop carried various obscure items. Well, they tried tiki torches, clay pigeons, mole traps, drill bits and whatever a bunch of football coaches could think of. They never stumped Hilltop. The Bridges carried it all.
Dr. Loran Wagoner told me this story. Loran said, “Denzil finally was able to train me. I used to come in and ask him, Do you have such and such?’ Finally, he trained me not say ‘do you have’ but ‘where is’ because he truly carried anything you could ask for.”
I spent a couple of mornings at Hilltop talking to customers for the purpose of this column. Many told me that they came to Hilltop to get things they couldn’t even find at Walmart or Lowes. During the course of the interview, I could not help but buy a couple of fishing lures that I couldn’t find at Walmart. They were even priced competitively with Walmart.
Added to the folklore of Hilltop is that is has been more than just a grocery store. The East Golden Pond Fire Department got its start in the basement of Hilltop. The Wild Haired Hilltoppers Club also got its start at Hilltop. The Hilltoppers were a club many remember for their parade performances across the state. Their float would be complete with a still, moonshiners and Kelsie Calhoun shooting a squirrel out of a tree (not a real squirrel, I don’t think; therefore, if you belong to PETA don’t call me or Kelsie).
Now, let me reveal to you the real secret to Hilltop Market’s success over the years and what makes it special. Yes, you have the fact that they somehow rival Walmart with what they carry. Yes, East Golden Pond Fire Department and the Wild Haired Hilltoppers were started there. The real story, however, is the Bridges family. The late Denzil was a man who loved people. He knew everyone that came into his store, and he was willing to talk and entertain with stories all day long. Even after cancer had taken one of his legs, Denzil would still come to work and see his clientele, who were more friends than customers.
Then, you have Denzil and Ruth’s son, Scott. Scott probably more than anybody can locate any item in the grocery or hardware parts of the store. A regular also told this story on Scott. The fellow who goes by the name of Daniel said, “You know that the gas pumps at Hilltop are self-service. That is, unless a good-looking woman pulls up to get gas and Scott, who is a bachelor, is working the register. It is amazing how quick the pumps can become full service as Scott springs into life pumping gas, checking oil, washing windows and such.”
I have saved my personal favorite aspect of Hilltop Market for last. That is Ms. Ruth. Daniel Hale said, “Ms. Ruth runs the store. She is also a seamstress, psychiatrist, greeter, nurse, and a friend of animals.” She feeds several stray cats outside her store, including one known as Miss Hilltop. According to Daniel, Ms. Ruth also has a homemade cure for just about whatever ailment you have, such as putting Kerosene on cuts.
Perhaps the following story sums Ms. Ruth’s impact at Hilltop best. I was getting ready to leave Hilltop after a couple of hours there the other morning. As I was nearing the door, a man came up to the register. I didn’t know the fellow, but I asked him if he stopped at Hilltop much. Without any hesitation he replied, “Yes, I come here often. This is an amazing store, but the best thing about Hilltop is Ms. Ruth. She starts your day with a smile.” Enough said.
OT: Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Williams and John Michael Montgomery are among the country stars that have been in Hilltop.
OTT: NFL quarterbacks Chris Redmond and Brett Favre have been there as well.
Triple OT: Hilltop has also employed many Trigg County youth over the years, including David Bryant and Trigg County school administrators Shannon Burcham and Matt Ladd. Current FNB Bank Vice President and Manager Penny Jones was also a former employee.
Quadruple OT: The late Lem Banister was also a regular volunteer at Hilltop, or at least that is what he called it. Ms. Ruth said Lem served as a part-time guard once a week.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.