Waltham’s Art and Paint Place

by Chris Wangler

January 17, 2023

Since opening in 1946 on Main Street, Nickerson & Hills has sold both paint and art supplies, reflecting a balance of the practical and the creative.

The eclectic store has been owned for three generations by the same family. Many of the key players have moved away or passed on, but the place is still very Waltham.

Longtime store manager Jerry Champagne

Jerry Champagne, who lived in Waltham for most of his life, has managed the store since 1991 after working at Moody Stationery beforehand.

He was hired to run the art department, but he also knew the paint business. “My father was a house painter for 35 years,” he said.

Benjamin Moore, the iconic brand, has always been the store’s anchor, ensuring loyalty from contractors and converting homeowners who initially went elsewhere.

“A lot of them go to the big box stores because they’re trying to save a few bucks on paint,” Jerry said. “But then they discover that the paint is not the same quality.”

Current Nickerson & Hills owner Keith Hills, known to play the guitar in the store, still runs a paint contracting business.

He followed his dad Rusty Hills and grandfather Russell Hills, who co-founded the business. 

Keith said the store was once a busy “decorating center” selling wallpaper, fabrics, drapery, curtain rods as well as paint and art supplies.

Various local artists display their works in the store, including Shawn Laswell, who’s been coming since he was a baby and gets his art supplies from the Main Street mainstay.

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,” Shawn said.

Shawn is best known for drip art on old vinyl records displayed on utility poles all over Waltham and in Waltham small businesses.

Shawn’s mom Donna Laswell is arguably Waltham’s best known artist, having done several public art commissions for the city using supplies from Nickerson & Hills.

Jerry also dabbles a little, including pen and ink drawings from photos he took in Maine and a fine rendering of a North Waltham home off Forest Street.

He said a lot has changed over the years. A gallon of paint was $20 in the early ‘90s; now it’s $60.

Harry Sneider (left) managed the store for more than 50 years for co-owner Russell Hills, Sr. (right). Courtesy photo

Starting in 1950, Jerry’s predecessor Harry Sneider ran the store. Jerry kind of became the new Harry, who passed away in 2011.

But with Jerry getting on and Keith’s now-grown sons not following in the family business, it’s twilight time for Nickerson & Hills. 

The beloved store will close when Jerry throws in the towel, but he’s not ready quite yet.

“As long as I’m healthy I can still work, I’ll be here for a while,” he said.

Courtesy photos