More than the “new” downtown Piggly Wiggly’s appearance has changed since it was razed last year and rebuilt as a train station-like architectural piece.
Gone is the drab building that used to sag under its own ugly greyness at the corner of Meeting and Columbus streets. In its place is a gleaming facility whose transition may be the most obvious sign of gentrification on the peninsula.
In the parking lot, there’s more fresh, black asphalt than stragglers straggling. Those taking the bus amble across Columbus Street to the bench under the covered shelter, and those waiting for cabs seem to get picked up more quickly than before.
A white van belonging to the grocery is parked outside, and is emblazoned with the motto, “When you see this face, you’re in the right place,” alongside the ubiquitous line drawing of a pig wearing a butcher’s cap. The pig’s face is white.
The lot has become a melting pot of baseball hats and wave caps. Even the cops are largely gone from spots where before they coiled, ready to arrest the next hungry homeless Harry trying to slip out with a can or two of salmon stuffed down the front of his pants. Five-finger discounts have been replaced with Pay By Touch technology.
Walking in the front right-side doors, shoppers encounter a full service bakery stretching around the building that includes everything from a hot food line to a sushi counter.
Make no mistake about it: the 20-deep line that forms every morning isn’t there for a California roll, but for the old school soul breakfast.
Behind those standing in line for eggs, grits, and sausage biscuits is a cheese cooler, featuring a wheel of herbed French brie. The cooler sits just past the rotisserie chicken display and the olive bar. There is a line of beer, too, queued in front of the counter — not St. Ides or the Bull, but Oktoberfestbier.
Combined, these new amenities make this Pig feel like a Harris Teeter-lite, or is Harris Teeter just a Piggly Wiggly-white?
And then, on shelves facing the chicken and the cheese wheels is perhaps the most eloquent proof of the grocery’s awkward transition: jars of mayonnaise lined up next to the loaves of white bread.
Shoppers can find a more complete selection of the cracker-bred aioli on aisle four, or as it’s also known within the store, Meeting Street. Most of the aisles have been named after city streets.
Aisle No. 1 is Market Street, and Spring Street is No. 2, which makes sense because it borders the store.
But who came up with the idea to name the dog food aisle (No. 10) Tradd Street? Did that person know about Simon Legree, the evil massa from Uncle Tom’s Cabin when he or she ordained the next aisle Legare Street?
There is no America Street aisle, where a rich white boy from the right side of the tracks can buy a baggie of oregano or some rock … candy.
And then absent, too, is the former grocery store’s signature design element: the Wall of Pork, where packages of every part of the hog seemed to stretch for the entire length of the store’s back wall.
So extensive were the porcine products that West Side artist Colin Quashie was inspired to create a wall-sized art installation called “Black People Love Pork because Africa is shaped like a pork chop,” which featured an oversized tray of pork chops shaped like, well … you get the picture.
Willie Key, the sometime substitute teacher and enigmatic Greta Garbo candidate for Kwadjo’s vacant City Council seat who refused to speak publicly or be photographed during his recent campaign, did rail about the changes at his neighborhood grocery in hand-typed manifestos dropped in East Side mailboxes. One of the rambling position papers included the question, “What is our grocery store doing with a $9 tray of chicken legs?”
The only expensive trays of yardbird there last week were family packs, but shoppers can still get trays of raw, split pig’s feet (trotters) and country pudding (pig snouts and don’t ask). But now those soul food staples are on the same shelves as relatively expensive grouper filets, which are located smack dab between chunk bologna and smoked turkey necks.
There are still value packages of pink-skinned Price Wise hotdogs, but they’re in the same display section as wieners from Nathan’s and Hebrew National.
Where the Wall of Pork used to stand, there’s now a lobster tank, fresh-cut flowers display, and double-thick T-bones.
There are still six half-shelves of Kool-Aid brand powders — enough to supply any Jamie “I grew up poor” Foxx stand-up routines with punchlines. But the six full shelves of sports drink next door dwarf them. (Then again, Michael Jordan has his own favorite flavor of Gatorade, too.)
At the checkout counter, some of the Lowcountry’s old status games are still on display, as one older black man who arrived at a checkout line first offers to let a white shopper jump ahead of him in line, even though he has the same amount of items in his basket.
But there are more signs of an ongoing paradigm shift in the checkout line, where a black woman buys a half-gallon carton of chocolate milk — soy style.
The swapping of white for black is most visible at the rack of magazines available next to the checkout lane’s gum and candy: only one black face graces the covers. It appears that Cosmo girls have replaced Halle Berry-ful Jet and Ebony.
And when twin high school girls show up for work, the white “smile manager” slaps hands with one and bumps elbows with the other without a hint of irony.
But will making the East Side’s Piggly Wiggly more white-friendly make black residents feel excluded at the grocery they have supported for decades and generations?
Will it still be a place where a painting contractor can ask the checkout girl if he has to wait all the way until 8 a.m. to buy lottery tickets while one of his employees sits in his truck and eats a breakfast of oily sardines and Icehouse beer laid out on his paint-splattered white pants?
At least, this week it is. Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.