5 Things You Didn't Know About America's First Grocery Store

On September 6, 1916, the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, was opened in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about America’s first grocery store...

ADVERTISEMENT

It Was the Country’s First Self-Service Grocery Store Before the first Piggly Wiggly opened, grocery customers were waited on by a salesperson who stood behind a counter, and most of the items for sale were out of their reach. Piggly Wiggly changed that by allowing customers to browse aisles and choose what they wanted themselves and then pay for them. It wasn’t a popular idea at first but quickly caught on.

They Pioneered a Number of Firsts For Grocery Shoppers Along with being the first self-serve grocery store, Piggly Wiggly pioneered a number of things we take for granted today. They were the first grocery store to have refrigerated cases, shopping carts, and checkout stands. In addition, their employees were the first to wear uniforms. They were also the first to develop a nationally recognized and advertised brand of food.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Grocery Chain Is Still Going Strong Today, there are more than 600 store locations nationwide operating in 17 states, primarily in smaller cities and towns.. Surprisingly enough, the headquarters is in Keene, New Hampshire, where they operate no grocery stores. Most of the company’s stores are located throughout the South and Midwest.

Piggly Wiggly Was the First Company to Franchise Clarence Saunders, the founder of the chain, was clearly a visionary. He not only changed the way that shoppers bought food, his company was the first to offer franchises. This allowed purchasers to own and operate their own grocery stores under the Piggly Wiggly name.

The Name “Piggly Wiggly” Is a Mystery According to the Piggly Wiggly Web site, founder Clarence Saunders was "reluctant" to explain the origin of the company's name. There are two theories: One story says that, while riding a train, he looked out his window and saw several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, which prompted him to think of the rhyme. Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, to which he replied, "So people will ask that very question." Up until his death in 1953, he never explained the reason.