Changing the game at the Piggly Wiggly

A pioneer in its time, Piggly Wiggly changed the face of grocery shopping in early 20th century America. Founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916 by Clarence Saunders, Piggly Wiggly was the first American grocery store to provide full self-service shopping. While most competitors still relied on clerk and counter services, telephone orders and home deliveries, Saunders made the bold decision to instead offer registers, open displays and woven handbaskets for customers to select their own products. By cutting out the full-service industry staples of the time, Saunders was able to more efficiently serve grocery shoppers, saving time and money for all. For its trendsetting success, Piggly Wiggly also became one of the first grocery stores to franchise nationally, and quickly spread across the US.

In 1920, Piggly Wiggly opened five stores in what is now known as San Antonio’s downtown area. Over the next decade, “the Pig” expanded rapidly within the city, eventually opening over 40 stores. In 1927, the chain contracted growing local builder G. W. Mitchell to construct a Piggly Wiggly storefront on the corner of West French Place and Fredericksburg Road, in a growing business district near San Antonio’s Pedro Creek. This project was one of G. W. Mitchell’s earliest forays from housing into retail construction, a move which would later help them to weather the Great Depression.

The G. W. Mitchell’s Piggly Wiggly, a large white corner building with a smart terracotta roof, was an icon of its time. Housing Saunder’s revolutionary cold storage cases and aisles of both fresh produce and dry goods, the store drew daily shoppers buying in small batches. This location would later become part of what is now known as Alta Vista, a central San Antonio neighborhood home to San Pedro Creek and other central San Antonio landmarks. The store remained open and thriving with its green coupons and local charitable contributions until the 1970s when the rise of grocery stores with larger parking lots and selections began to push out smaller chains like the Pig. By 1980, Pigs across Texas were shutting their doors, and in 2011 the last Piggly Wiggly locations in the state were closed.

While Piggly Wiggly may no longer have a presence in San Antonio, its iconic buildings still stand. Many are under consideration for historic preservation, and the G. W. Mitchell project can still be seen standing on the corner of West French Place and Fredericksburg Road.

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