The Pig is back.
In a town where residents say they’ve been hungry for another grocery store option, Piggly Wiggly announced Monday plans to build a new store along Desoto Avenue near the Highway 61 bypass.
“We, literally, have brought home the bacon,” a beaming mayor Chuck Espy said to a roomful of laughs as the Piggly Wiggly mascot made its way around the room following Monday’s announcement at the regular meeting of the Clarksdale mayor and board of commissioners.
Piggly Wiggly, which operated a store on North State Street some 30 years ago, will build a new 25,000 to 28,000-square-foot store near the entrance and on the acreage comprising the Corey L. Moore Sports and Recreation Complex. Groundwork on the $4 million project is expected to start by the end of May with the installation of infrastructure (water, sewage and utility lines, sidewalks, streets) and dirt moving. Actual structural work is planned to begin in August and it's expected that construction would take some six months, dependent upon the weather, said Dwan "Dee" Brown, the developer for the project.
Tim Chaffin, who is the sales manager for the Piggly Wiggly Alabama distributing company, said Monday night that they would hope to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at this time next year.
The store is expected to employ 65 to 75 people with those jobs being a mix of full-time and part-time positions, Chaffin said. He said they'll start the application process once construction on the building begins this summer.
Piggly Wiggly stores are independently owned and operated and while Brown said there is an owner and operator in place for the Clarksdale store, he declined to name them Tuesday afternoon.
Chaffin said his organization is very excited about Clarksdale.
“We have looked at this area for quite some time and we know that there’s a need for a grocery store here in this area,” said Chaffin, who noted that city and economic development officials reached out to his company soon after the departure of Kroger in February 2018.
He said the group went back and forth with city officials on different variations of plans before deciding to build a new store.
“We felt the ground-up situation was going to be best because it’s going to be built specifically for Clarksdale,” Chaffin said.
Brown said the ownership group he represents looked at the Kroger store as a possibility, but noted that the 43,500-square-foot building on South State Street was much larger than they were needing. He said most grocery stores being built now are those in the 18,000 to 30,000-square-foot range.
"It was way oversized and we couldn't subdivide it," Brown said. "It would have been a very expensive project. It was just not financially feasible for us to go into that location."
Chaffin agreed as he said most of the equipment in the old Kroger store dated back to the early 1980s.
"It may look good on the surface, but all those little things add up," Chaffin said.
The local store will be custom made and Chaffin said there will be a design team that will make sure that “everything that makes Clarksdale what it is will be put into that store.”
Brown said they hope to offer local products such as Jerry's Hot Tamales and Sweet Magnolia Gelato at the store. Chaffin said there will be fresh produce, a deli and bakery, as well as a top-notch meat department.
"That's something we're really going to hang our hat on," Chaffin said of the plan to offer certified angus beef. "We want the customers to feel that this is their store."
Chaffin said Piggly Wiggly doesn’t follow a “cookie cutter concept” and said, “You can’t drop this store in Nashville, Tennessee, or Atlanta, Georgia, and it have the same feel. This is a Clarksdale original. This is your local, hometown store.”
Brown said the new store will basically be a “blues city Piggly Wiggly” and will be unique from other area Piggly Wiggly locations.
“It will be more than a shopping experience. It will be a cultural experience for those who come to visit,” Brown said.
He said the store will be designed to capture the culture and heritage of Clarksdale and will serve not only Coahoma County, but surrounding counties as well.
Brown said the grocery store will also sell gas and there will be a rewards program where shoppers can receive discounts in the store and at the gas pump.
The store will also offer customers the convenience of ordering online and picking up their items with curbside delivery at the store. He said there will also be weekly deliveries to retirement homes and to students at Coahoma Community College.
Brown said Piggly Wiggly also hopes to partner with the local community college and fill its stocking and cashier positions through the school’s work-study program.
Piggly Wiggly was founded in Memphis and Chaffin said the company “is looking forward to getting back to its roots in this area.”
In the end, Chaffin said it will take the local community “to take ownership” and ensure the store “will serve this community for a very, very, very long time.”
Chaffin praised the effort put out by Jon Levingston, the executive director of the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, and city and county leaders.
“It’s been a lot of long hours on this plan,” he said.
Levingston said it was an “arduous process” that followed in the wake of Kroger closing its grocery store on South State Street in February 2017.
“At this time last year, we were pulling out our handkerchiefs and saying goodbye to a grocery store player that had been here for decades,” Levingston said of Kroger. “Today, we got the promise of a wonderful new grocery store.”
He said Piggly Wiggly will give local consumers “a choice.”
“In every community that is economically financially sustainable, it has choices. Choices in housing, choices in grocery stores,” Levingston said. “This is one more piece in an economic puzzle that allows us to create a sustainable financial platform for Clarksdale.”
Saying that it had been a “very tedious process,” Espy praised the work done by Levingston, Brown and Chaffin.
“To get this where it is today, it is amazing what these three gentlemen have done,” the mayor said.
Brown, a Clarksdale native who heads up the P3 Development Group, anticipates that the grocery store will be the first enterprise finished at the sports complex, which features a public-private partnership. The sports complex would be constructed on 77 acres of an 109-acre plot. The complex will consist of five synthetic-turf athletic fields that will host tournaments for traveling youth sports teams, as well as a 5-acre water park. There will be a Best Western GLo hotel, which would offer 100 rooms, as well as a restaurant and bar. The hotel will be connected to a 17,000-square-foot conference center that will feature four ballrooms to attract meetings and special events. A solar farm will also be located nearby, in addition to a fast-food restaurant.
CORE Construction will serve as the main contractor on the Piggly Wiggly building and Brown said it is their hope to hire local subcontractors with an emphasis on those owned by minorities.
"We want to get qualified people and also put them in a position to be successful," Brown said.
Espy said the Piggly Wiggly announcement is more good news for Clarksdale.
“Multi-million dollars are being spent in this county and we’re talking about, in 2019, in the ballpark of 400 new jobs,” he said. “Clarksdale is in unchartered territory and we’re in a great place right now.”