David Lauderdale

Hilton Head’s Piggly Wiggly hits this red-and-white milestone on Saturday

Coligny Plaza’s Piggly Wiggly to stay open ‘as long as I have enough staff’

David Martin, owner of the Piggly Wiggly store in Coligny Plaza on Hilton Head Island, talks about the store's plans to stay open as long as possible during the Hurricane Matthew evacuation starting Oct. 5, 2016.
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David Martin, owner of the Piggly Wiggly store in Coligny Plaza on Hilton Head Island, talks about the store's plans to stay open as long as possible during the Hurricane Matthew evacuation starting Oct. 5, 2016.

Hilton Head Island’s Piggly Wiggly will mark a 50th anniversary Saturday with barely a squeal.

“We’re going to humbly celebrate it,” said owner David Martin.

It’s been half a century since his father, Gene Martin, bought what was in 1969 the only supermarket on Hilton Head, if you can call 6,000 square feet “super.” It was then and now the anchor of Coligny Plaza.

Gene Martin, who can now barely see, will come down to the store late Saturday afternoon. They’ll have cake and celebrate with employees, David said.

When Gene moved here from Allendale with his family of six, the Hargray phone book listed four other island grocers: (Abe) Grant’s Grocery and Driftwood Lounge, (Henry) Driessen’s Grocery & Service Station, The Island Market at Fairfield Village, and (Charlie) Simmons Grocery Store. None of those businesses are around today.

Today, there are three supermarkets within about a mile of the Pig, David said, all of them at least twice the size of the Pig’s 20,000-square-feet, and all of them brimming with bells and whistles.

But the Pig is a lot the same as 1969, and that might be its ironic secret to survival.

David was a 9-year-old bag boy for what was then the Red & White grocery store. The store was such an ingrained part of life on Hilton Head that a few people still write checks to the Red & White. Thousands of people ran tabs and paid at the end of the month. It had a postal window in the back, before there was a south-end post office.

The store dates to 1956, when the late Norris Richardson left a successful chain of grocery stores he’d built up in south Georgia to gamble on a place called Hilton Head. You practically needed a machete to get to his lonely cinder block business, but it would slowly grow into Coligny Plaza.

Richardson and Gene Martin were inducted into the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame last year, so great was their influence on the community.

And the Pig just keeps on ticking, predictions of its demise still grossly exaggerated, even as another Kroger the size of small village opens for business in Bluffton.

Generation after generation of island kids have gotten first jobs there, and stayed with it for a decade or longer. Seven college kids working there this summer started that way.

Hampton native Tyrone DeLoach, who works in produce, has been there for 38 years. He met the Pig’s bookkeeper, Brenda, at the Pig and they were married in the back room. Brenda DeLoach had worked there about 40 years when she passed away recently. Tyrone and Brenda were living with Gene Martin in Palmetto Dunes, helping him stay in his own home longer than expected.

Liz Faulkner started at the Pig when she was 14. She’s 25 now, and handles the graphics and social media.

David’s wife, Chris, works there, and both their children have worked there all the way through college and grad school.

The store is known for giving tons of food over the years to nonprofits. It’s known for its seafood market, for its old-fashioned feel, for staying open longer than anyone else when a hurricane threatens, and for ordering whatever customers ask for: Minnesota wild rice, fire-roasted garlic mustard, blue corn meal.

“We were the first grocery store in South Carolina to sell Perrier water,” David Martin said.

Cheers.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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