Piggly Wiggly in North Charleston, South Carolina, has weathered some challenges over the past few decades. It began in the 1990s when the city decided that the retail center shared by The Pig, a BI-LO and a few other businesses should be blocked off from the main road.
“Immediately, that BI-LO bailed out,” said Craig Kelley, director of operations said. “But we stayed and kind of suffered because of that cutoff.”
The store had done extremely well up until that point. It then saw diminished returns as more customers had to adjust to the new traffic configuration. The store sits on the side of a six-lane highway with a concrete barrier between the road and parking lot. A single four-way traffic light is the customers’ only access point.
Still, the store hung on, which Manager Freddie Broach attributed to its devoted customers and workers.
When Piggly Wiggly Carolina dissolved in 2014, Lynn Willard decided to take over ownership of the site and a few others. Willard went to work updating the location under his company’s name, Lowcountry Grocers. Most of the remodel was a facelift, but he provided sound leadership and a solid path forward.
“The good thing about it is Mr. Willard is my boss. He’s all I have to answer to,” Kelly said. “Everything we do is something near and dear to his and our hearts, so we trust him to do it and he trusts us.”
Kelly said the group of 14 stores owned by Willard works cooperatively as the market areas Willard operates have become “highly saturated.”
“The market is very competitive. So many competitors are coming into the area, so we’ve got to be able to continuously compete with all these big brands,” he said.
The North Charleston store is famous for its in-store butcher. It saw a lot of success during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Broach.
“I think it played in our favor because you couldn’t get much meat throughout the whole pandemic. You couldn’t buy in bulk. You sometimes couldn’t find it at all,” he said.
“We got people going through these processing techniques, and they’re working hard and people really appreciated it.”
Workers in the meat department cut almost every single piece of meat that goes on the store shelves. Labor might be the only thing holding back the operation. “If I could hire 15 people and make payroll limits, I’d do it,” Kelly said.
He went on to note that labor has “always been an issue for any grocer.”
While the butcher is something Kelly and Broach are particularly proud of, what they admire most about the store is its dedication to a charitable event known as “The Basket Brigade.”
Begun about 20 years ago, the event aims to get meals in the hands of those who need them at the holidays. During the first, about 10 or 15 families received baskets, according to Kelly. However, since North Charleston and the other Piggly Wigglys within Lowcountry Grocers have joined in to help, the event has grown exponentially. Within the past year, 3,500 families received food that was donated by the grocers.
For more information, visit pwadc.net.
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