Gary Robertson poses with his wife Melody. Robertson’s father opened the downtown grocery store in 1959. | Submitted
Gary Robertson poses with his wife Melody. Robertson’s father opened the downtown grocery store in 1959. | Submitted

Archived Story

End of an era

Published 11:42am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Piggly Wiggly changes hands, offers same products

After more than 54 years, the Piggly Wiggly in downtown Alexander City has changed hands.

The sale was finalized on Monday. Gary Robertson, whose father opened the store in February of 1959, said he was ready to retire.

“It is time to retire, time to turn the page,” said Robertson. “We had a good opportunity to sell it to someone who would keep it progressing, so it was just time.”

The store was purchased by Ronnie Baker, who owns 10 other Piggly Wiggly locations.

Baker said not much will change at the downtown grocery store and that it will continue to operate under the Piggly Wiggly name.

“We will try to make some improvements, but this has been a good store for many years,” Baker said. “We hope to continue making it a better store.”

Robertson said he got his start bagging groceries, and by 1967 he was working full time at his father’s grocery chain.

Robertson said a lot has changed over the years.

“Most people forget that Piggly Wiggly was the first self-service supermarket in the country,” Robertson said. “The old format of doing things was in the meat departments, you would have to wait while people cut the meat up for you. When we opened in 1959, everything was cut and already placed in a case.”

Robertson added that the store was the first business in Alexander City to have air conditioning.

Computers have also had a huge role in transforming the grocery business.

“When I started in the business, we wrote our grocery order on an order book and mailed it to a warehouse – you could place about one order a week,” Robertson said. “It went from mail to phone to Internet. Now you can do four or five orders a week.”

One of the biggest changes happened around 1979. While modern day grocery patrons are used to a rhythmic beeping emanating from checkout lines, Robertson can remember a time without electronic scanners.

“The guy that sold us the new register system said that at the time, it was the third scanning system that had been sold in Alabama,” Robertson said.

And while electronic scanners are now an inextricable component of supermarkets, Robertson said that it wasn’t an easy transition.

“It was quite an undertaking to go into scanning at that time with no backup and no service for the equipment,” Robertson said. “Today’s prices all go through the computer, but (back then) we had to make sure that all of our prices were (the same as) the ones on the shelf.”

With his days in the grocery business now behind him, Robertson said he will now enjoy retirement with his wife.

“We are going to travel some, fish and play golf – just got a list of things to do,” Robertson said.