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Friday, July 19, 2013

And This Little Piggy...

For those of us with little kids (or anyone who has been around little kids lately), we’re familiar with the story people tell as they tickle someone’s tiny toes. Each toe has a story, starting with the big toe and ending with the baby one. It’s a playful thing people do with the (usually naked) toes of babies and little kids, who find it exciting that their toes have personalities and are the stars of the show. It starts out, “This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home.” The last piggy supposedly cries, “Wee, wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” I’m here to change the ending on this story. Why does the little one have to cry and feel sad? I say this little piggy went to the Piggly Wiggly and was treated like a king!

Let me take a (baby piggy) step back a moment and tell you why I’m blogging about toes. This morning I am taking a happy meander down a nostalgic lane. I’ve been obsessing about Piggly Wiggly, a supermarket chain that has the most charming name. I want to shop there! Sadly, most Piggly Wiggly stores are in the Southeastern USA. I’d have to drive at least 1,000 miles (maybe 2,000) to reach one. And I don’t care how many coupons they might give me: I can’t quite justify driving twenty hours for a loaf of bread!

Anyway, Piggly Wiggly once had stores in San Diego. In 1938 there was one at the corner of Park Blvd and El Cajon Blvd, close to where I lived in North Park in 1998. I will share the photo of the store, but you must forgive how grainy it is. It’s a photo I took of a newsprint photo, torn out from The Reader, years ago. But it’s all I’ve got right now. (I spent thirty minutes online trying to find a better photo but our local historical society does not have a photo (or any record) of a Piggly Wiggly on that corner.) Although the grocery store had closed long before I moved to that neighborhood, the building still remains. I was tickled when I learned that a building I’d passed many times had been a Piggly Wiggly. That name is so fun to say. It makes you happy just saying it. It’s adorable!

These thoughts were crossing my mind this morning at 4 a.m., when I should have been counting sheep, not pondering pigs. Eventually I told myself I could not lie awake thinking about Piggly Wiggly and that the pigs could wait until daylight. When I awoke this morning I sat down to write an explanation of why Piggly Wiggly is enchanting.

It goes beyond my interest in old architecture and the history of supermarkets, which are a piece of our societal makeup, something to which everyone can relate. There are grocery stores on every corner, it seems. But Piggly Wiggly stands out among all these stores because of its cheerful, rhyming name.

The first Piggly Wiggly was opened in 1916 in Memphis, TN, by Clarence Saunders. Saunders was the first to open a self-service grocery store. Previously, customers gave a list to grocery store clerks, who would gather the items for the customer. Saunders noticed how inefficient this was and decided to revolutionize grocery shopping by having customers gather their own food, using baskets or carts. I think we can safely say—97 years later—that the idea caught on. When asked why he had given his stores the bizarre name of Piggly Wiggly, Saunders said. "So people will ask that very question." Clearly, the memorable name lingered in peoples’ minds and the stores continue to draw customers. As of 2013 there are more than 600 Piggly Wiggly stores in America.

This photo (courtesy of JP shows a roadside sign for Piggly Wiggly, with a 1950s style. Irresistable!
A 1959 edition of the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper advertises Piggly Wiggly locations in eleven San Diego locations (some open on Sunday!). The newspaper ad boasted a deal for ham, at 35 cents per pound.  

Perhaps the littlest piggy toe would think twice about going to a Piggly Wiggly where ham was the special of the week. But I still like to think about that piggy having an ending that does not involve tears but instead, cheers. From now on, when I talk about the five piggies, I’ll end it with the little one going to Piggly Wiggly and receiving a standing ovation. Long live Piggly Wiggly!

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