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Piggly Wiggly

With the right coupon, you can get all the ingredients for a big breakfast for just a little over a dollar. A dozen eggs for 29 cents. A pound of butter for 28 cents. 27 cents for 4 pounds of sugar, 23 cents for a pack of bacon, and 21 cents for an 8-pound bag of potatoes.

Sign me up! What do you have to do, to find coupons that allow you to pay prices like these?

As it turns out, these valuable coupons are as rare as they are lucrative. 1,900 grocery shoppers in East Alabama and West Georgia are the lucky recipients of these special “golden ticket” coupons, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Piggly Wiggly – and the modern supermarket as we know it.

It was back in 1916 that Tennessee businessman Clarence Saunders revolutionized grocery shopping (just seven years after the introduction of the equally revolutionary grocery coupon) by opening the first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis. Before Piggly Wiggly, grocery shoppers would walk up to the counter at their corner store, hand a clerk their list, and wait as he packed up their order.

But Piggly Wiggly was the first modern grocery store, introducing concepts that we take for granted today. Shoppers would walk up and down aisles, picking out their own products, placing them into their very own shopping carts, and paying for them at checkout stands – all of which helped to keep prices low.

Seems pretty commonplace today – but this was radical stuff in 1916.

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The very first Piggly Wiggly ad featured prices like – you guessed it – a dozen eggs for 29 cents, a pound of butter for 28 cents, and so on. So the owners of 19 stores in Alabama and Georgia decided to celebrate their company’s milestone, by holding a contest. And on the official 100th anniversary yesterday, 100 entrants from each store won a “golden ticket” – a coupon that will allow them to buy these grocery staples at 1916 prices.

“It’s a chance to celebrate the 100th anniversary by giving as many people as you can those prices from a hundred years ago,” store owner Mike Milligan told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Piggly Wiggly wasn’t the first grocery chain – A&P preceded it by more than 50 years, and ultimately surpassed it as the country’s best-known grocery store – but Piggly Wiggly’s low-price, self-service model was quickly adopted by imitators, including A&P itself. Ultimately, though, the once-larger and more successful A&P went under last year, while Piggly Wiggly survives as a franchise of independently-owned stores. Headquartered in New Hampshire, which has no Piggly Wiggly stores of its own, there are currently more than 600 Piggly Wiggly locations in 17 states, mostly in smaller Southern and Midwestern towns.

The golden ticket promotion was dreamed up by the owners of the 19-store group in Alabama and Georgia. Other independently-owned Piggly Wiggly stores will be celebrating the parent company’s centenary in their own way.

And in another hundred years, who knows what will happen? Maybe grocery shoppers of the future will be excited to receive coupons that allow them to pay 2016 prices. That is, if there still are such things as “coupons”. And “grocery stores”.

With digital coupons and online grocery shopping taking hold these days, the mind reels when trying to picture what grocery shopping will look like in 2116. So looking back to a simpler time, might prove to be a bit more comforting. The prices from that simpler time certainly are.

Image source: Piggly Wiggly

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