Need some things from the grocery store? Should be easy –all you do is go to the store with your list, browse the aisles, select the items you want and take it all up front to the cashier. However, a hundred years ago you’d probably take your list to the store, hand it to the clerk behind the counter then wait while he or she retrieved the items from the shelves behind the counter where customers had no access,. Then you would pay, the clerk would wrap your purchases, and you’d be on your way.
Of course that was how most people shopped until Clarence Saunders and others changed it all with a new store layout and a different type of shopping that soon swept the country. So after Saunders established his first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis in 1917 the 2750th store of the chain opened in Athens in 1928.
According to the June 28, 1928 Athens Weekly Review the new store was located on the north side of the courthouse square and the reporter described the shopping method. “The customer enters a turnstile, picks up a basket and moves up and down the two aisles lined with shelves containing the goods offered for sale and marked with swinging price tags, makes his own selection, reaches the checking counter where the goods are wrapped and the amount due paid and passes out through another turnstile.”
With this arrangement there were advantages to both the shopper as well as the storeowner. The purchaser made their own selections, perhaps guided by national advertizing, and they also could purchase individually wrapped products. Also, though some feared it would mean increased shoplifting, it turned out that actually shoppers made more impulse purchases that would offset the cost of any thievery.
The advertisements in the June 28, 1928 paper stressed what the shoppers would find and assured them that “a basket is loaned for use while in the store.” Shopping carts – or “buggies” – came several years later.
According to the ads, with Piggly Wiggly stores there were many “Advantages to Customers” and they were listed. “…Lowest prices…Best Products.. 1000 items… Freedom of choice… clean store and fresh goods…Help Yourself – no waiting to be waited on. Vegetables and fruits sold by weight …the honest way.”
And the new store welcomed visitors. “You can look and be at home in this store and go through its two separate aisles upon a tour of inspection as to the merchandise, as to its cleanliness, as to the prices and for so doing so you will be handled a souvenir free that you may know we were glad that you came.”
Of course shoppers naturally wanted to pay less for their groceries and Piggly Wiggly was ready to accommodate. The ad stated: “Operating Cost – the operating cost of Piggly Wiggly stores is lower than any heretofore known method of retail distribution. This saving in operating cost is given to the consumer, affording prices which are savings that cannot be obtained elsewhere.”
Also as part of the grand opening was a contest where the winner would receive $15 in gold and there was a coupon to clip for your entry. This would “entitle the holder to one guess at the number of people passing through the turnstile of our store opening day, Saturday, June 30th, 1928.” First prize was $7.50, second prize was $5. And third prize was $2.50.
The Piggly Wiggly chain, and others like it, became the standard way of shopping for groceries in the U.S. and there are still stores with that name in various parts of the country.
So where did the name Piggly Wiggly name come from? The store website explained that actually Saunders never clearly defined the origin of the name, however there are various possibilities. One story states that Saunders was once traveling by train and looked out the window to see several piglets that were trying to get under a fence. Supposedly, it was that sight – and the rhyming of “piggies” and “wiggling” - that sparked the inspiration. Another story was that one time someone asked Saunders why he had such an unusual name for his stores and he is said to have replied, “So people will ask that question.”