Friday, May 29, 2015


First of all, I would like to say that I think "Piggly Wiggly" is a totally stupid name for a grocery store.  No one asked my opinion, of course, but there it is.  The reason I think "Piggly Wiggly" is a dumb name is because pigs are fat, and people don't like to be reminded about pigs and about getting fat when they are at the grocery store.  The only good thing about the name is that it is fun to say.

You may wonder why I am writing about a grocery store whose name I don't like, and I will tell you: it's because Mom bought a photograph of an old Piggly Wiggly® store.  This store may have been in Kansas City.  I only say this because the photographer put K.C. after his name.

The photo Mom bought.  This store was having a big sale on Lustrwax at the time.
I'm not sure what Lustrwax is, but I think it probably isn't dog food.

Anyway, when I looked up Piggly Wiggly® online, I found out there was a lot of interesting information about the history of this store.  The first Piggly Wiggly® was opened on September 6, 1916.  It was located at 79 Jefferson Ave. in Memphis, Tennessee.  The man who founded the Piggly Wiggly® line was named Clarence Saunders.  He had a really good idea, which was that people should be able to go to the store and look around and see all the items, then pick out the ones they wanted to buy.  Before this time, people took their grocery lists to the counter at the store, and the clerk went to fetch their items from the stockroom.

The original store in Memphis

Mr. Saunders thought this old method of shopping wasted a lot of time and money, so he invented the first modern, self-service store.  People who went to Piggly Wiggly® to get groceries entered through a turnstile, and then they walked through the store's four aisles. They were able to view all 605 of the items for sale.  These items were displayed in packages and were organized into departments. When the customers had chosen all their items, they brought them to a check-out stand where they paid.

In 1917, Clarence Saunders patented the concept of a "self-serving store."  Here are all the things that made Piggly Wiggly®  different from the stores that had gone before it:

--Everything in the store had a separate price tag.
--There were checkout stands.
--There were lots of nationally advertised brands.
--Prices could be lower because food was bought in bulk by the store.
--Refrigerated cases kept the products cold longer.
--Employees wore uniforms, so they handled the food in a more sanitary way.
--Fixtures were designed and patented to be used through the store.
--Each store was owned independently as part of a franchise.

1950s Piggly Wiggly® interior
Roadsidephotos (Flickr)

All of these ideas seem old-hat now, but they were exciting and new back in 1916 when the first Piggly Wiggly® store opened.  It didn't take long for the self-serve grocery model to be adopted all over the country.  Stores of this type were called "groceterias" because they were kind of like "cafeterias," which were becoming popular at about the same time.

But getting back to that crazy Piggly Wiggly® name:  How did Clarence Saunders come up with it?  The fact is that nobody knows for sure because he would never tell anybody.  When one person asked him how he chose such a strange name, he just said, "So people will ask that very question."  There was one story about how Mr. Saunders was riding a train, and when he looked out the window, he saw some little pigs trying to wiggle their way under a fence.  I guess that's as good an answer as any, but I still think he could have done better.

Nowadays, Piggly Wiggly, LLC is an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers.  Its headquarters are in Keene, New Hampshire.  There are more than 600 independently-owned Piggly Wiggly stores in 17 states, mostly in smaller cities and towns in the South and Midwest.  There is a replica of the original store in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium, which is a mansion built as a private residence by Mr. Saunders and later sold to the city.

I have never personally been in a Piggly Wiggly® store because (1) the only dogs allowed in grocery stores are service dogs, (2) there are no Piggly Wiggly® stores near us, although Mom says there used to be one a couple of miles away, and (3) I think the name of the store is ridiculous.  However, if I knew I could get a yummy raw chicken wing from a Piggly Wiggly® store, I would be there in two seconds flat!

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