November is here, the season for giving thanks and - according to the numbers churned out during Black Friday week - for shopping. But shopping nowadays is quite different from what it was like 100 years ago. Here are the interesting stories of two well-known Midwest grocery store chains which had their beginnings during that time. Their names are probably quite familiar... Piggly Wiggly and Jewel-Osco.
Piggly Wiggly started in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee. Its owner, Clarence Saunders, had a radical new idea: self-service. Back then, shoppers would bring their grocery lists to store clerks, who would find their groceries for them. Everyone thought Saunders must be crazy to actually let his customers choose their own products.
But his “crazy” idea worked. Not only did his customers not steal from him, as many had predicted, but they loved being able to actually do their own shopping. The self-service model also allowed Saunders to lower his prices in comparison with other stores.
Piggly Wiggly’s innovations didn’t stop with self-service. It was also the first grocery store to use checkouts, shopping carts, refrigerated displays for produce, and uniforms for its employees. It was the first store to price all its merchandise, market its own national brands, and issue franchises to other stores that wanted to use its self-service model. By the 1930s, it already had hundreds of franchises. Today, Piggly Wiggly boasts over 530 stores in 17 states, including Illinois and Wisconsin.
No one knows how Piggly Wiggly got its name. Saunders took that secret to his grave. It probably was to arouse curiosity in the hopes of generating business. In that, Saunders was certainly successful.
Jewel-Osco is another grocery store with an interesting history. In 1899, it started in the Chicago area as the Jewel Tea company. Its founders, Frank Ross and Frank Skiff, used horse-drawn wagons to deliver coffee and tea from house to house. As their company expanded, the two Franks added hundreds of delivery routes, and eventually made their products available by mail order. The company also began acquiring grocery stores. Eventually, the whole company came to be known as Jewel Food Stores.
In 1961, Jewel Food Stores decided to expand yet again, with the purchase of the Osco Drug company. For several decades, Jewel and Osco stores maintained different locations. After 1983, most Jewel and Osco stores shared facilities but operated separately. In 1999, Albertson’s, another grocery store chain, purchased Jewel and Osco (along with other chains) from Jewel’s parent company, American Stores. In 2010, Jewel and Osco officially merged, becoming the Jewel-Osco company.
Jewel-Osco currently operates 185 stores in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana, as part of a larger chain of over 2,200 stores. It’s come a long way from the horse-drawn tea delivery business that it started from!