Beyond Piggly Wiggly

Inventing the American Self-Service Store

Title Details

Pages: 364

Illustrations: 83 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 08/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6441-4

List Price: $34.95


Pub Date: 08/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6442-1

List Price: $114.95

Beyond Piggly Wiggly

Inventing the American Self-Service Store

How a southern grocery store chain helped develop self-service shopping

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Patented in 1917, Piggly Wiggly was by far the most influential self-service store of the early twentieth century. Before 1940 it was the only self-service chain with a national distribution network, but it was neither the first nor the only version. Beyond Piggly Wiggly reveals the importance of Piggly Wiggly in the invention of self-service and goes beyond the history of a single firm to explore the role of small business entrepreneurs who invented the first self-service stores in a grassroots social process.

During the 1920s and 1930s a minority of enterprising grocers experimented with a wide variety of (sometimes wacky) design ideas for automating shopping. They created specialized stores designed as enclosed retail systems that went far beyond open display techniques to construct unique physical and psychological advantages for automating salesmanship. Beyond Piggly Wiggly offers the first perspective on the national scale of experimentation and connects the southern Jim Crow origins of self- service to the national history of this mass retailing method. Empirical analysis of store arrangements demonstrates how small stores that have previously been overlooked or undervalued as quaint anomalies were integral to the creation of supermarkets. Ultimately, self-service was more than a business decision; it was a fundamentally new social practice.

Beyond Piggly Wiggly is a cultural history of self-service that reveals how grocers and other stakeholders invested time and money into convincing consumers that doing the literal heavy lifting of shopping was both economically advantageous and socially and culturally acceptable (and sometimes even preferred). Lisa C. Tolbert shows how through trial and error local grocers refined self-service, shifting grocery stores from human-dependent food distribution depots to 'systems for automatic selling.'

—Susan V. Spellman, author of Cornering the Market: Independent Grocers and Innovation in American Small Business

About the Author/Editor

LISA C. TOLBERT, who grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, teaches American cultural history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is the author of Constructing Townscapes: Space and Society in Antebellum Tennessee.