See You at the Pig


The End of Something Special

Photos and Interviews by Major Colbert. Words by Lindsey Lowe.

 

Every 10 minutes, it happens again: There’s a crack of thunder, and then a shower of rain falls over the shelves. But in the last days, the water isn’t necessary, because there are no fruits or vegetables to keep fresh in the produce section of the Crestline Piggy Wiggly. After 30 years as a gathering place, to the community’s despair, the grocery store’s doors closed. But even as the space itself emptied, the Piggly Wiggly on the corner was not without. Papers from Crestline Elementary students were tacked up on the walls, crayon letters asking to “Save the Pig.” Laughter and conversation rang throughout the store, perhaps a little louder, echoing off of the bare shelves. In the parking lot, there were scenes of employees loading groceries into customers’ cars and then offering a hug before they went back inside. The grocery store supplied the people of Crestline with food, but they insist it gave them so much more than that: “In a nutshell, this store is the epitome of community,” says Andrew Virciglio Jr., the son of owner Andrew Virciglio Sr.

 

Frank Campbell, store manager

Frank Campbell, store manager

Frank Campbell

Frank Campbell, the store manager, has worked at the Crestline Piggly Wiggly for two decades. He can tell story after story, each simple but powerful, each a beautiful example of the kind of relationships that formed between the customers and the employees. “Years ago, I ran into a gentleman who was in here shopping, and he needed some help. His name was Jerome Silverfield. Over the years, we became friends. He got to the point where he couldn’t come to the store anymore, and his wife couldn’t come, so I would take their groceries to them, and then, we became like family.

“There was a time after Mr. Silverfield died that Mrs. Silverfield had a sitter sitting with her, and she got locked out of the house one night. I live about 30 miles from here. She couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number, but she did think of mine. So I came. Mrs. Silverfield died a couple of years ago, and she left me her car in her will—a 1989 Cadillac Deville. I’ve got it down in the parking garage right now,” he says with a laugh. Campbell’s bond with the Silverfields—and his service to them—is just one of countless stories of the relationships that made the Pig such an integral part of the community. “I think it started with a business relationship, but then you get to know the people. It became a friendship,” he says. “I’ve always been taught that people come into your life, some for a reason, some for a season, and some forever. And some of the relationships we’ve formed in this store will last forever. It’s just more than a grocery store. It’s like coming to see family.”

 

Mrs. June Emory, a 93-year-old longtime customer who promised she would come by the Pig on its last day and shop, which she did.

Mrs. June Emory, a 93-year-old longtime customer who promised she would come by the Pig on its last day and shop, which she did.

The Piggly Wiggly Runners

Sandy Brown is a member of the Piggly Wiggly Runners, a group that has been running together for some 20 years. The Pigs—who sport hats with pig faces and flying pig bumper stickers—have become an icon in Crestline. “I was one of them. In fact, in 1996, we wore these pig hats…we got interviewed by Al Roker on the Today Show, and he said, ‘What are these pig hats?’ We said, ‘Well, it’s the grocery store called Piggly Wiggly.’ And he said, ‘Piggly Wiggly? I’ve never heard of that.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s kind of a down South thing.’ So they got national recognition. Mr. Virciglio buys us Christmas dinner, just to thank us, but there’s really no need for thanks. We just met here and would run from here, so we called ourselves the Piggly Wiggly Runners.” Brown explains that the Pigs never intended to be Pigs—it just sort of happened. But once it did, they were proud to be identified with Piggly Wiggly. “It was special to me, because I had just started running…my neighbor said we needed to sign up for the New York Marathon. She said we were going to get pig hats and everything, and I said, ‘I cannot do that!’ But I decided to, and it was a very special group, because we spent a lot of time together. And we met here, at the Piggly Wiggly. Someone found the pig hats and we wore Piggly Wiggly shirts. And everyone at the marathon would say, ‘There are the Pig runners!’”

 

Arrelia Callins

We ask Arrelia Callins a question about her time at the Pig—after all, if anyone knows about it, it’s Callins, who has been here since it opened—but before she can answer, someone she knows walks in the door. “How are you doing, Nancy?” she calls out. It’s this sort of interaction, the way Callins knows the people who shop her shelves, the way she makes it so obvious that she cares about them, that makes her a legend of sorts among the Crestline community. The customers are willing to wait in line to have a chance to talk to Callins, who always asks about their days and their families, building friendships with them visit by visit. The Piggly Wiggly patrons insist she’s one of a kind, but Callins says it’s been a blessing to her; it’s been a life, she says, of good things.  “Compassion. Concern. Love. Those are the things that stand out to me,” she says. “I’ve just been overwhelmed with the amount of concern and love that this community has for each other. There’s no one thing,” she says, and her voice cracks. She settles on simple words to describe the people she’s served for nearly four decades: “They’re just great.”

 

Arrelia Callins, cashier

Arrelia Callins, cashier

Nancy Stetler 

“I can write an IOU on a napkin, and they’ll take it,” says Nancy Stetler, a longtime customer of the Pig. “I sign my name on things if I don’t have the money. One of the managers pulled $1.15 out of his pocket to pay my bill one day when I was $1.15 short. You just don’t get that anywhere else.”

 

Tiffany Denson

Tiffany Denson, the owner of T Lish, a line of natural dressings and marinades, says that for her, the Pig didn’t just provide food—they believed in her, and they showed it by putting her product on their shelves. “This is my family. Truly, this is my family,” she says. “They’re the ones that helped get me started two years ago, and now we are a multi-regional product. But this is where I first started. This is my number one account. They not only helped me feed my family by grocery shopping, but they literally help feed my family by supporting me financially. They really are my family, these people. I went into the Homewood Pig the other day [where some of the Crestline Piggly Wiggly employees transferred], and I got to see them, and it was like seeing your grandmother. I was so excited. I think that if anything, the people who worked here realized how much they meant to our community, and I think that they truly understood that they were a part of our lives and the fabric of our community. Hopefully that spoke to their hearts, because I know that they spoke to our hearts.”

 

Vivian Crawford

Vivian Crawford is a part-time cashier at the Pig and has been for the past 13 years. She’s quick to laugh, something she can’t help doing when she thinks of the crazy things that have happened at the Pig. “Sometimes dogs that are passing by decide to come in,” she says, giggling. “They go straight to aisle seven, where the dog food is, like they knew where it was. They can sniff it out! We’re like, ‘Whoa, how did that dog know where the dog food is?’ It’s crazy.” But it’s the day-to-day bustle—the normal—that she loves. In that, she sees a chance to love the people and to change their worlds, even if it’s just a little. “There have been times, you know, when people come through my line and they had a bad day or something, and then I talk to and encourage them to make them have a good day, to put a smile on their faces. I tell them jokes. I’m full of jokes,” she says. “Then they have a happy day, you know. They say, ‘You make me feel better. You really do.’”

 

The Crestline Piggly Wiggly closed its doors on Nov. 2; the following day, the community gathered one last time for a “Party at the Pig,” where barbeque was served and the employees and their customers had a chance to say goodbye. At the party, the $15,000 raised by the people of Crestline in a fund named the Piggy Bank was split among the employees, all of whom have opportunities to go to other area Piggly Wiggly stores. And the Pig will be missed, but time and again, those touched by it say they’ve learned one thing—you can take the Pig out of the community, but you can’t take the community out of those who loved the Pig.

 

 

One Response to “See You at the Pig”

  1. Donna Avery says:

    This was a very sweet article. I miss this kind of local grocery store. Thanks.

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