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Piggly Wiggly stores sold to Birmingham company


Piggly Wiggly in Starkville, Southern Family Market in Columbus and 55 other stores under the Southern Family Markets chain were recently purchased by Belle Foods out of Birmingham, Ala. The stores will all be put under the Belle Foods name.

Piggly Wiggly in Starkville, Southern Family Market in Columbus and 55 other stores under the Southern Family Markets chain were recently purchased by Belle Foods out of Birmingham, Ala. The stores will all be put under the Belle Foods name. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff




Piggly Wiggly is Gone With The Wind. 


Belle Foods, which recently purchased 57 grocery stores across the Southeast - including the remaining Piggy Wiggly franchises - will mean an end to the historic brand that ushered in the modern supermarket concept 96 years ago. 


The purchase will include the Piggly Wiggly store in Starkville and the Southern Family Market store in Columbus. All 57 of the stores will undergo a complete make-over and will operate under the Belle Foods name. Belle Foods, which operates out of Birmingham, Ala., began the process of buying the 57 stores from C&S Distributors and Southern Family Markets in February. The deal was completed in late June. The purchase price was not disclosed. 


Although Belle Food officials said no regular employees are likely to be laid off, the company has closed 16 pharmacies in the stores, including those at the Starkville Piggly Wiggly and the Columbus Southern Family Market. The Starkville prescriptions have been transferred to the CVS location on Highway 12 while the Columbus store's prescriptions have been transferred to the Rite Aid pharmacy on Alabama St. 


The demise of the Piggly Wiggly brand means the loss of a historic icon in the grocery business in America., 


It holds the distinction as America's first true self-service grocery store. Piggly Wiggly was founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 1916 by Clarence Saunders. In grocery stores of that time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks who gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders, a flamboyant and innovative man, noticed that this method resulted in wasted time and expense, so he came up with an unheard-of solution that would revolutionize the entire grocery industry: He developed a way for shoppers to serve themselves. 


Despite predictions that this novel idea would fail, Saunders' first store opened September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Street in Memphis. Operating under the unusual name Piggly Wiggly, it was unlike any other grocery store of that time. There were shopping baskets, open shelves and no clerks to shop for the customer, something that had never been tried before. 


Piggly Wiggly Corporation, established by Saunders when he opened the first store in Memphis, secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of Piggly Wiggly stores. 


The original Piggly Wiggly Corporation became owner of all Piggly Wiggly properties: The name, the patents, etc., and Saunders began issuing stock in the Corporation. The stock was successfully traded on the New York Stock Exchange for some time, but through a series of stock transactions in the early 1920s, Saunders lost control of Piggly Wiggly and had no further association with the company. 


At its peak in 1932, there were 2,660 stores operating under the Piggly Wiggly brand throughout the Midwest and South. 


Belle Foods operated under the name of Bruno's until earlier this year according to Advertising and PR coordinator for Belle Foods, Paul McLaughlin. All prescriptions were transferred to local pharmacies. 


"We really wanted to be able to focus on what we think we are good at and that is bringing in quality grocery stores," said Belle Foods Advertising/PR coordinator Paul McLaughlin. 


McLaughlin said all the hourly employees in the pharmacies were absorbed into other roles in the store, and that the human resources staff of Southern Family Markets helped the pharmacists get interviews with other pharmacies in the area. 


McLaughlin said Belle Foods' main goal is to make everything simpler on the consumer. 


"We want the stores to be easy to navigate, easy to get in easy to get out, not having to waste 15 minutes to get milk and bread," he said. "Any changes we make will be along that line." 


"It's all an effort to get back to a family-owned and operated business," McLaughlin said pointing out that since 2007, the chain has been owned by C&S Distributors, the largest wholesale grocery distributor in the United States. 


There is no set date for completion of store makeovers, but McLaughlin said they hope to be finished by early September, in time for the beginning of football season.




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