Smell can light up one's memory more surely and immediately than any other sense. So it makes sense that Pennsylvania-based Sugar Creek Candle Company has scored a nostalgic hit with a candle fragranced like the snack bar of Hills, a now-defunct department store.
Anthony Barravecchio, co-founder and chief operating officer of the Sugar Creek Candle Company in Irwin, Pennsylvania, says he has lost count of the number of orders he’s received for the "Pittsburgh Dad's Hills Snack Bar" candle. “It’s been thousands,” he tells Mental Floss.
Barravecchio won’t disclose the ingredients that make the candle smell like Hills, but they apparently work: A woman on Sugar Creek’s Facebook page commented: “[M]y husband didn't know anything about the candle. He came through the door, stopped, smelled, paused for a minute and said, "[D]oes it smell like Hill's in here?’ Lol.”
At one point, the Canton, Ohio-based Hills department store had more than 200 locations in 14 states. The store’s trademark snack bars sold hot dogs, soft pretzels, buttered popcorn, and soft drinks. Their smells were an olfactory mainstay throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Lower Midwest before Hills entered a financial downward spiral and was acquired and absorbed by competitor Ames in 1998. (Four years later, Ames also folded.)
Though gone, Hills lives on in the memories of the people who use to eat pretzels and ICEEs at their snack bars. One such person is Curt Wootton, a comedian who stars in the hyperlocal (and popular) YouTube sitcom Pittsburgh Dad, which features monologues from a working-class cheapskate father character. The series’ most high-production episode features a fantasy sequence in which Pittsburgh Dad uses the Back to the Future DeLorean to travel back in time to shop at Hills. (Wootton even purchased rights to the Hills logo on the cheap.)
Wootton and Barravecchio belong to the same gym, and the candle came to fruition after Barravecchio approached him and inquired about making a tie-in product.
Sugar Creek makes soy candles (better for scent, says Barravecchio), and the company often uses irreverent humor to sell their products. In addition to typical fragrances, their line includes "Waffles N’At" candles and the tropical-scented "Monkey Farts." Their candles, including Pittsburgh Dad Hills Snack Bar, are available online and at a few stores (including one that, like Hills, is a regional icon: The Giant Eagle grocery chain).