Chatham County

Pittsboro is losing its Piggly Wiggly. And Aunt Bee would be sad.

The Piggly Wiggly grocery store in downtown Pittsboro is closing after 11 years in business.
The Piggly Wiggly grocery store in downtown Pittsboro is closing after 11 years in business. jjohnson@heraldsun.com

Other grocery stores may have fresh-made chicken salad and pimento cheese in their deli sections, but they won’t be the same as what one Piggly Wiggly customer in Pittsboro has come to enjoy.

The shopper was among more than 30 people who commented on the Piggly Wiggly Facebook page after the store’s July 1 announcement that it was closing. Saturday (July 14) is its last day.

“So sorry to hear,” wrote another customer, Doug Beal. “I loved working there and I miss my Piggly Wiggly family. Prayers for all those affected by this decision.”

The town will lose more than a business. Owner Blake Andrews has been a good neighbor, Town Commissioner Jay Farrell said. Farrell, a small-business owner, received helped from Andrews when the walk-in deep freezer at Virlie’s Grill malfunctioned several years ago.

“I had two truckloads of frozen food and no place to keep it,” Farrell said. “He let me use some space at the grocery store for a couple of days while I got mine fixed. That’s the type of man he is. We’re going to miss having his store in Pittsboro.”

The loss of the store will deal a blow to the town, which is on the verge of a population explosion.

“It doesn’t make sense that we’re losing a grocery store when we’re about to hit all this growth,” Farrell said.

But an influx of people unfamiliar with the Piggly Wiggly brand and the old-timey way of shopping has put this pig in a pickle.

The Pittsboro Piggly Wiggly opened in 2007. It was the third grocery store to make a go of it in a shopping center three blocks east of the historic Chatham County Courthouse on U.S. Business 64 after the original Byrd’s and Lowe’s Foods tried it.

The owners said many factors played into the decision but the arrival of Chatham Park was not one of them.

“We are grateful to have been part of such a fantastic community,” the post said. “The decision to close this location was not taken lightly. We would like to personally thank our loyal customers for allowing us the opportunity to serve you for eleven years.”

There was a time when Piggly Wiggly was the innovator.

When Clarence Saunders founded the chain in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916, he changed how people shopped for groceries. It was the first self-serve market where shoppers went up and down the aisles selecting their own groceries. It also was the first to price each individual item. Prior to this time, shoppers presented their list to a clerk at the counter who then went through the store and pulled the items off the shelf.

Pittsboro’s Piggly Wiggly faced competition from a nearby Food Lion and a Harris-Teeter across town. National grocery store analyst David Livingston of DJL Research said Piggly Wiggly stores have been pressured by lack of wholesale support and the absence of an online strategy. Food Lion and Harris-Teeter have those, and the emergence of Wal-Mart and Amazon on the grocery scene has meant innovate or die.

“With new competition coming in, and in reality there is no new net growth, something has to give,” which will be stores closed,” Livingston said. “Don’t expect it to stop at Piggly Wiggly. Food Lion, in my opinion, is on its last legs, despite playing musical chairs with other grocers going out of business.”

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Vick Lynn, who has shopped at the Pittsboro Piggly Wiggly since it opened, said he now will have to go up the street to the Food Lion for groceries now.

“It’s not that extra for me,” Lynn said. “But I am going to miss shopping here. I liked the store a lot.”

Jamie Johnson loaded her car up with marked-down groceries.

“I liked their prices before they were marked down,” she said. “I guess it’s back to Harris-Teeter for me now. I grew up coming to Piggly Wiggly but switched when the Harris-Teeter was closer to where I lived. I still came over here to get things I couldn’t find at Harris-Teeter.”

Farrell said losing a grocery store now was unbelievable. Pittsboro, which has a population of about 5,000, is expected to grow by nearly 60,000 residents during the next 25 years as people move into Chatham Park and other new developments. One of the tenants in a Chatham Park shopping center will be a grocery store, and it will be closer to the neighborhoods where people will live.

Getting to the Piggly Wiggly was easy for people living on the east side of Pittsboro. But the expected growth is coming on the north and west sides of town. Most of those people travel up U.S. 15-501 away from Pittsboro to work. There are other grocery store options between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro that are easier to get to than running back through town and around the traffic circle to get to the Piggly Wiggly.

Piggly Wiggly isn’t pulling out of Chatham County altogether. The store in Siler City also is owned by Andrews and will remain open.

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That was good news for Clara Mitchell, who is from Siler city but happened to be in Pittsboro to do some grocery shopping.

“At least I’ll still have a Pig at home,” she said.

The Piggly Wiggly in Siler City was known to be the grocery store of choice for Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bee on “The Andy Griffith Show.” She was known to shop there after retiring from acting and moving to Siler City in the early 1970s. She died in 1989.

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