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Honeymoon visit results in new ownership of Shirt Off My Back

The Hill family (from left, Grady, Whitney, Cassidy and Beau), the new owners of The Shirt Off My Back, celebrate closing on the store. (Courtesy Whitney Hill)
New owners intend to preserve business’ legacy

When Whitney and Beau Hill visited Durango on their honeymoon 20 years ago, they dropped into The Shirt Off My Back for souvenirs – never expecting to take on the store’s legacy two decades later.

Original owners Bonnie and Geoff Miller, Cathy O’Neil and Dan Ruff took a gamble on opening the store 42 years ago, Bonnie said. The Millers were ready to make a change after Geoff broke his leg. They sold their Porsche for $10,000, intending to buy a house in Durango. When the sale fell through, they decided to put the money toward opening a business instead.

With support from the owner of the original, Breckenridge-based The Shirt Off My Back store, the Millers partnered up with O’Neil and Ruff to open the Durango store. It was one of the first T-shirt shops in Durango and is currently the third oldest store on the 600 block of Main Avenue.

“Longevity has its rewards,” Bonnie said. “We’ve enjoyed support from the community and we’ve made many friends over the years.”

After the Hills’ honeymoon visit, they continued to stop at the store during vacations. Three years ago, Geoff jokingly tossed Beau the keys to the store on one such visit and suggested they buy it because the Hills seemed to enjoy it so much, Beau said. It sparked a friendship and piqued the Hills’ interest.

Already running a successful embroidery store in Albuquerque, buying the T-shirt shop was a wistful “what if” in the back of the Hills’ minds. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Life suddenly moving at a slower pace gave Bonnie time to research selling the business. Bonnie said she and Geoff were ready to retire. Unbeknownst to them, the Hills were also considering a change that would let them slow down and enjoy life more.

Out of three prospective buyers, Bonnie contact Whitney Hill first, hesitantly telling her they were thinking of selling the shop. Whitney said she asked Bonnie not to send the offering letter to anyone else until she talked to Beau. She said it felt like kismet because she and Beau had just been talking about the shop the night before.

Despite Whitney having to live with the store’s landlord for a month while waiting to close on a house and commuting between Durango and Albuquerque for six months, the Hill family took over ownership of the store Nov. 1, 2020.

The Millers were on hand to help with the changeover, Beau said. “We got mentorship, guidance and friendship as part of the deal.”

Because they loved the store and its history, the Hills don’t plan to make any big changes. Keeping a local feel and regularly engaging with both locals and tourists is a high priority. Beau said they feel honored to get to pick up on what someone else created and carry it on for others to enjoy.

The Hills now spend seven days a week at the shop – often with their two children, Grady and Cassidy, and their dog, Uggs – but they’ve also made time to enjoy the downtown culture, engage with the community and take advantage of the outdoors.

Whitney said they’re grateful to feel so welcome and look forward to giving back and getting involved with the Durango community.