It is appropriate to begin this article by stating that Piggly Wiggly is a registered trademark of Piggly Wiggly, LLC with corporate headquarters in Keene, N.H. The company issues Piggly Wiggly franchises to qualified independent grocery retailers. The company also provides the retailers with services such as support, marketing programs, and a line of promotional items.
Much of the factual data in this article comes from Rita Kennedy Sutton’s privately published book entitled Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc., A Backward Glance. The book a fascinating retrospective of the Appalachian work ethic in action. It’s also a reminder of the hundreds of people who were employed by Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. over the years.
© Jerry F. Couch 2019
ORIGINS OF PIGGLY WIGGLY…
The first Piggly Wiggly store to appear on planet Earth was established by Clarence Saunders in Memphis Tennessee in 1916. This store featured “self-service,” which was a new concept in grocery merchandising at that time.
Before Piggly Wiggly came along, grocers served their customers from behind a counter. Merchandise was arranged under the counters and on shelves along the store’s walls. Shoppers gave the grocer or the clerks a list of items they wanted to buy. The merchandise was located and tallied up for them. Though not a speedy process, it was what most people expected and found acceptable in those less-hurried times.
With the advent of self-service, more customers could be served in less time with fewer clerks. This boosted sales volume, making lower prices possible for customers while netting the same margin of profit for the grocer. Lower prices, in turn, attracted more customers, and grocers knew a good thing when they saw it. By the mid-1920’s, hundreds of Piggly Wiggly franchises had been sold.
PIGGLY WIGGLY COMES TO ST. PAUL – 1934
In 1934, a Piggly Wiggly franchise holder named Benjamin F. Kennedy opened a Piggly Wiggly store in St. Paul. Mr. Kennedy couldn’t have picked a less auspicious time or place. One of Piggly Wiggly’s neighbors, a bakery, had recently gone out of business. Piggly Wiggly occupied a storefront in the St. Paul Apartments – whose owners were facing an eminent foreclosure sale. Several St. Paul grocers had been forced into bankruptcy the previous year. Though the St. Paul National Bank did not fail, banks in surrounding communities had failed – causing depositors to lose both their savings and their confidence in banks. People were holding on to whatever money they still had, fearing times would get worse.
When you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but UP. Piggly Wiggly made it through the hard times. Here are Rita Kennedy Sutton’s comments about the St. Paul store during those difficult years. They are transcribed from her book which is mentioned above.
In 1934, a Piggly Wiggly was opened in St. Paul with Johnnie Stidham as manager and H. A. Wright as market manager. The building was near the theater, and across the street from the hotel. Mr. Jenkins next became manager. He came from New York, knew nobody in this area, and had about him a suggestion of mystery. Still, he was a genial personality, and well-liked. Volney Draughn was a helper then. In 1938, Tom Hutchinson was manager, assisted by Wade Hicks, Lloyd Wheatly, and Alton Atchley. By 1939, Tom Long was manager, with Leslie Perkins, Carlene Schell, and Frank Scott also employed. Tom Long left the organization August 31, 1940. Alma and Carlene Schell, and Frank Scott took charge and operated the store till 1947. Robert Horton was among the helpers. Hogue T. Shelley was manager in 1948 and 1949.
Piggly Wiggly was later relocated to a building on Fourth Avenue owned by Dave Stanton. Then, in 1958, a brand-new “supermarket” was opened on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Russell Street, the former location of St. Paul’s town park. The new, expanded store included a customer parking lot – a major plus in St. Paul’s congested downtown area.
During its 60+ years of operation in St. Paul, Piggly Wiggly served its customers well. In the store’s final years, elderly residents who lived nearby continued to receive delivery service at their homes – long after most grocery chains had discontinued this courtesy. Though not large by today’s standards, Piggly Wiggly’s shelves were always well-stocked. Meats and produce were fresh and of good quality.
Shown below is an Easter sale flyer from March of 1991. Were you among the folks who shopped for bargains that week?
In 1998, it all came to an end. Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. were sold to Food City. Until the new Food City store was built in the Riverside Shopping Center, the old store continued to operate under the name of its new owner. When Food City relocated, the character of St. Paul’s downtown area changed.
TIMELINE – KENNEDY’S PIGGLY WIGGLY
- 1927 – Benjamin F. Kennedy opens his first Piggly Wiggly store in Clintwood.
- 1930 – Store opens in East Stone Gap
- 1931 – Store opens in Pound
- 1932 – New office and warehouse open in Wise
- 1932 – Store opens in Wise
- 1933 – Store opens in Norton
- 1933 – Store opens in Ramsey
- 1933 – Store opens in Grundy
- 1933/1934 – Store opens in Haysi
- 1934 – Store opens in St. Paul
- 1930’s – Stores open in Dungannon and Clinchport. Both were closed by 1937.
- 1937 – Wise office and warehouse move to Ramsey
- 1937 – Store opens in Clinchco. Sold to Molinarys in 1947.
- 1938 – Store opens in Nickelsville but closes that same year.
- 1938 – Store opens in Pennington Gap
- 1939 – An existing Piggly Wiggly store in Johnson City is purchased, then sold the same year.
- 1939 – Store opens in Cadet (near Big Stone Gap)
- 1939 – Store opens in Rose Hill then closes in 1951
- 1939 – Store opens in Maxie (Buchanan County)
- 1939 – Store opens at Watkins Branch near Grundy.
- 1939 – Store opens at Garden Creek in Buchanan County.
- 1940 – “Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores” formally incorporated. B. F Kennedy is president.
- 1940 – B. F. Kennedy elected president of the Virginia-Carolina Piggly Wiggly Operators Assoc.
- 1940 – Store opens in Big Stone Gap.
- 1941 – Store opens at Nora but closes that same year.
- 1943 – Store opens in West Norton and closes that same year.
- 1943 – End of expansion period.
- 1945 – All stores in Buchanan County are closed by this time.
- 1945 – Tornado destroys Piggly Wiggly’s warehouse at Ramsey. The company rebuilds.
- 1954 – To follow marketing trends, Piggly Wiggly adopts the “supermarket” concept.
- 1954 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds its first supermarket at Pennington Gap.
- 1955 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds a new supermarket at Coeburn.
- 1958 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds a new supermarket at St. Paul.
- 1959 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds a new supermarket at Big Stone Gap.
- 1960 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds a new supermarket at Norton.
- 1962 – B. F. Kennedy steps down as president; becomes chairman of the board.
- 1962 – J. I. Sutton becomes president of Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc.
- 1963 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly moves its offices and warehouse from Ramsey to Norton.
- 1964 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly builds a new supermarket at Wise.
- 1966 – Parkis D. Kennedy becomes president of Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. following the death of J. I. Sutton.
- 1967 – Trading stamps are introduced, and a redemption center opens in Norton.
- 1968 – Kent Rigg becomes president of Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. following Parkis Kennedy’s death.
- 1974 – Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc., in partnership with others, forms Mid-Mountain Foods (a distribution center) at Abingdon.
Some of these stores weren’t in business very long, and not all of them were open at the same time. In some cases, store managers worked on a percentage basis instead of a salary. Business was based upon “what works.”
AN ERA ENDS…
- 1987 – Rita Kennedy Sutton dies. She was the daughter of store founder, B. F. Kennedy.
- 1998 – Food City acquires Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc.
- 2013 – Eliza Sutton Rigg dies. She was the daughter of John I. Sutton and Rita Kennedy Sutton.
- 2018 – Kent Rigg dies. His hand guided the company during some of its most challenging years.
The following 2008 post is from the Groceteria.com Message Board. It is a response by one of the former owners of Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores to other comments about the company’s grocery chain in Southwest Virginia:
Thanks for the very nice comments about Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly. My family started Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly around 1925. After almost 75 years in business, we saw the writing on the wall. All of our stores were in small rural areas. We fought and won against several major chains like Kroger and Food Lion. But when rumors started about a Wal-Mart Super Center coming to small town USA, we took notice. We studied them, visited them, and realized very quickly that you could not fight them with just 13 small stores in 13 small towns. So, after 75 years in business, we decided to sell to Food City. We both owned Mid-Mountain Foods and were good friends with the Smiths… We also knew that 70+ stores would survive against Wal-Mart, but 13 could not. We still miss the grocery business…thanks, Wal-Mart.
A new sign appeared on the St. Paul Piggly Wiggly store following the purchase of Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. by Food City. When the new Food City opened in the Riverside Shopping Center, the downtown store ceased its long run as a place to buy groceries. This photo was taken in the 1990’s during St. Paul’s annual Christmas parade.