Bridget Is Retiring! Again :)

Hilltop Packs Coffee Shop co-owner/manager announces retirement

By Steve Carrett

After an eventful few years of serving as manager and co-owner for Hilltop Packs Coffee Shop in Waynesburg, Bridget Vilenica will serve her last customer on Thursday, Aug. 31, before officially retiring.

The lifelong area resident, who resides in Clarksville with her husband of 31 years, recently announced her retirement.

“It will be bittersweet saying goodbye to the customers and co-workers who have provided me with so many wonderful memories and stories, but I am ready to call it a day,” she said.

Bridget's path to the coffee shop began with her education in the 1970s at the Institute of Computer Management in Pittsburgh, where she studied computer science.

In 1976, she was hired at the Democrat Messenger newspaper, where for the next decade she served a multitude of job responsibilities, including office manager.

“That was a wonderful experience because I was given opportunities to try my hand at various aspects of the company,” she said. “We had a small, dedicated staff who wanted to do the very best we could. We worked really well together as a team.”

In 1986, she accepted a job at the Washington Observer-Reporter and again served in a wide array of different job capacities, including customer service and circulation director. She said working at the Observer was very different from her time at the Messenger, and she recognized the Northrop family, who owned and successfully operated the Observer at the time.

Bridget retired from the Observer in 2020; however, it wasn't long before another business opportunity came calling for her. She and her nephew, Ben McMillen of Waynesburg, started talking in April 2021 about opening a coffee roastery.

“Ben and I have been very close for a long time, and I have always admired his drive and creativity when it comes to business ideas,“ she explained. “The idea from the start was to have a coffee roastery in Greene County, offer samples of our unique, fresh coffee and sell bags and K cups. That idea came to fruition in July 2021, when we opened the doors to Hilltop Packs Coffee Company.”

The coffee business was established in the front half of the large facility located at 1006 East Greene Street in Waynesburg that also houses Ben's Hilltop Packs LLC business, which produces a wide array of backpacking and hiking gear.

“Ben saw an opportunity to utilize the front of the large building to offer not just the roastery but also friendly space where community members could come in and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, and it was a wonderful idea,” she said.

The coffee business continued to expand in January 2022 when the business duo decided to start selling cups of different blends and bring in tables and chairs for customers, as well as sell pastries, tea and hot chocolate and offer free WI-Fi for customers.

In addition to managing the coffee shop, Bridget began utilizing her “people” skills learned from previous job experiences to voluntarily engage in community involvement. She serves on the board of directors for the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and has enjoyed involvement as a Greene County United Way board member and Rotary Club officer. She has also represented the coffee business on numerous occasions at various community functions over the years.

Looking back, Bridget said she has a great deal of pride for things that she and her colleagues at Hilltop Packs have accomplished since 2021. She is proud that the company was honored with the Greene Chamber's McCracken Legacy Award in 2022; she is thrilled that the company had assisted numerous local fundraising initiatives; and she is happy that she and Ben encouraged other local businesses to sell their wares inside the building.

“Ben has always believed in supporting local businesses, specifically those that may not have an actual 'brick and mortar' storefront – to give those businesses a place to showcase their products, including soaps, candles, honey, crafts and other specialty items,” she said. “Ben has always said he believes that local businesses should lift each other up, not tear them down. And I agree with that.”

Another particular special memory that Bridget said she will always carry with her is when she received a “Thank You” letter from a 93-year-old customer, not just for the kindness showed by the staff but also for giving her “the best cup of coffee” she ever had.

As she nears her last day, Bridget said she is honored to have met so many interesting people from all walks of life who have visited the coffee shop. She particularly recognized the staff she worked with – including Hanna McMillen, Ed Hughes and Diane Kokoska – within the coffee business, as well as the employees from Hilltop Packs LLC.

She thanked her husband, Bob, for his utmost support and encouragement while employed at Hilltop Packs Coffee Co., and also thanked Ben for everything he had done for her.

“I cannot thank my nephew and business partner enough for the opportunity to establish a successful business endeavor, one that many customers near and far have shared that they love and enjoy,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for Ben and his passion and dedication to his family, community and employees, and in juggling multiple successful businesses. It truly has been an honor to work with and alongside him. I will miss that.”

Ben said that although he is happy for Bridget and hopes she enjoys retirement, she will be Missed.

“Without Bridget I would not have started a coffee roastery, it was a lot to take on,” he said. “Growing up, I always admired her drive and confidence working in the newspaper industry. She was the perfect fit for a business partner during a challenging but exciting business startup like a coffee roastery. I would not have tried it with anyone else.

“We hope she continues to stop by and visit, and we might even let her keep the employee discount,” he said with a smile.

Following her retirement, Bridget said she plans to travel in the United States and abroad with her husband and friends, and spend more time with her two now-adult children. But she will never forget the people she has met and the memories she has made at Hilltop Packs.

“I will really miss the people who came into my life during my time there,” she said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's true. It has always been and will continue to be, more than a team here, it's family. And I will be cheering them all on as they continue to make Hilltop Packs a wonderful and successful business.”

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