HIGHLAND PARK – It can get a little crowded at HP Tops when people line up to order custom-designed clothing, but the Stone family of four has customer-service down to a science.
That’s because they’ve been running the family business in a 400-square-foot store for more than 40 years.
“People said how could you stay in a 400-square-foot store?” said family patriarch Larry Stone. “We like it because it’s very easy to sell in a small space. You can see everybody and everybody can see everything.”
His wife of nearly 54 years, Myra Stone, added, “We have used every nook and cranny, and have made many happy memories here.”
Myra works part-time at HP Tops, while her husband is still full-time. Fortunately, they like their bosses and the feeling is mutual. Their sons Jeff and Andy Stone currently run the design-your-own clothing store at 667 Central Avenue, Highland Park.
“I don’t think we’d still be here if it weren’t for them, because they put us in the 21st Century,” said Myra. “It’s a good blend.”
“Sometime Dad tries to go above us, but overall, he’s a good employee and everybody loves him,” said Andy. “I got my work ethic and learned business from both of my parents.”
Larry explained that HP Tops uses a heat transfer press for the imprinted sportswear. “We were one of the first to do it in Highland Park, and we’ve outlasted just about everyone,” he said. “Another store from Chicago opened and six months later they were gone. The kids love to watch us do the heat transfer and the other place did everything in a back room.”
While growing up, Andy spent a lot of time working with his dad at HP Tops in Highland Park.
“My dad taught me how to be a good human being and to be friendly with everybody,” said Andy, who started working at HP Tops when he was 13 or 14. “My dad also taught me how to deal with money. We still don’t use a cash register, it’s all in a cash drawer, because the space is too limited for a cash register.” He remembered how helpful it was when his dad taught him how to give cash back.
Larry recalled how they once hired a high school student who handled a customer perfectly and did everything very well. Then she wrote up the bill and the customer gave her $20, and she couldn’t make change. She always used a calculator in school.
Throughout the years, HP Tops has always stayed on trend. Larry Stone said the soft-wick T-shirts are new and they’re “flying out of here. They look nice, wear well and everything washes well,” he said.
Tie-die pants were popular a few years ago and flew off the shelves. This season the most popular items include sweatshirts, three-quarter sleeve baseball jerseys and shorts with sports teams, camp names or almost anything imaginable imprinted on them.
Andy said his 14-year-old son, Aaron, loves theater, and when his son performed in a show in Wisconsin, he made T-shirts for the entire cast and crew.
Both brothers remembered wearing Star Wars and Atari T-shirts when they were growing up. Their middle sister, Donna Rosuck, also helped out at the store when she was a teenager.
Myra Stone said the 100- year-old-plus building used to be City Hall, and next door was the fire station.
“It’s a beautiful building, and it’s neat that this building is still around,” she said.
They came to Highland Park for the location.
“Fortunately for us, we had built-in traffic already with Miss Marilyn’s Dance Studio upstairs, and Ann’s Shop across the way,” Larry recalled. “Ann’s Shop carried lingerie and she was a Highland Park icon for about 50 years.”
Andy was seven when they opened HP Tops, so he’d come to Highland Park with a friend on Saturdays and go to Woolworth’s, Stash’s or Michael’s for lunch, followed by an afternoon at Sunset Park.
“As I got a little older, Dad would show me how to fold clothes and how to help around the store,” he added.
Jeff was 12 when he started working at HP Tops. “It’s been fun watching Highland Park change over 40 years,” said Jeff. He lived in Highland Park for 12 years and currently resides in Northbrook. “We get people who come back to Highland Park and say there’s nothing like HP Tops in New York, Boston or anywhere else,” he added.
HP Tops is located at 667 Central Avenue, Highland Park, and will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Monday, July 17, which is the exact same day they opened.