Pig paraphernalia

Few shirts bearing the Piggly Wiggly logo remain at the Meeting Street store. Bi-Lo is buying the downtown supermarket.

Pig wear is flying off the racks as Piggly Wiggly wiggles away from Charleston.

The iconic porcine logo emblazoned on T-shirts and pullovers is a hot item since the announcement that many of the Charleston area Pig stores are being sold to rival chains and others soon will sell their last bacon.

Julie Brown of Texas stopped by the Pig in downtown Charleston and knew she had to have a Pig memento.

As a child growing up in Houston, she remembers her father stopping by The Pig to pick up a few items when they were traveling.

In Charleston for a business trip, she searched through the displays of T-shirts at the front of the supermarket with work colleague Michael Hanson before deciding on a couple of Pig Swig shirts for her husband and brother. “I wish they had the ones that say 'I'm big on The Pig' in adult sizes,” she said.

They were sold out.

Piggly Wiggly merchandise, or Pig wear, as the company calls it, has always been popular, said Jared Lott, manager of the “Piggly Wiggly No. 1” at Meeting and Columbus streets.

“The more tourists we got, the better sales were,” he said. “We have shipped them to different states. Anywhere there wasn't a Pig, the shirts were a hot item. We sell a lot to people from Charlotte because there aren't any Piggly Wigglys there. I remember walking down the street in California and at Disney World in Florida with a shirt with the Pig face on the front and the words, 'I'm big on The Pig' on the back. People would stop me and ask, 'Where did you get that?' They wanted the shirt off my back.”

Since the Charleston-based grocer announced Sept. 12 it is selling more than half of its company-owned stores to larger rivals Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter, sales have been even more brisk.

“In the last few days, people have really been grabbing them,” Lott said. “People are afraid they aren't going to get a Pig shirt.”

Left on the racks at the peninsula's only Piggly Wiggly last week were several children's T-shirts in tie-dye and camouflage colors along with adult Pig Swig short- and long-sleeve shirts. Pig Swig is the supermarket chain's brand of beer.

At the downtown Pig, Lott points with pride to a Pig T-shirt framed and signed by actor Bill Murray, a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs minor league baseball team and a part-time Charleston resident. “I'm taking that home with me,” Lott whispered.

Corporate Piggly Wiggly won't disclose specific sales figures for its branded clothing, but it's proud to say they aren't too shabby.

“It's been a very strong program over the years,” Piggly Wiggly Carolina spokesman Christopher Ibsen said.

He doesn't remember when the grocer started offering Pig wear, but he knows it's been at least 20 years, maybe longer. And it's always been popular.

Ibsen remembers a photo from 2003 showing Jimmy Buffett sporting the company's well-recognized logo. “You can't buy that kind of publicity,” he said.

At the Quadrangle Shopping Center Piggly Wiggly near Citadel Mall, one of the stores soon to become a Bi-Lo, merchandise manager Pattie Burnsed said she's had trouble keeping much of anything with the company logo on it.

Tumblers, chip clips, coozies and coffee mugs are gone. About 50 of the 600 shirts the store had earlier this year remain on a small rack at the front of the store.

“If I could get some more Pig merchandise, it would fly out of here,” Burnsed said. “But we aren't getting any more.”

At the two closing Piggly Wigglys in West Ashley and North Charleston, just a few shirts remain.

“We used to have two racks of shirts,” said Brian Stayrook, manager of the Piggly Wiggly at Festival Centre at Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester roads in North Charleston. “Now we just have one.”

That store will close Oct. 19, he said. The Northbridge store in West Ashley has not disclosed a closing date.

Pig wear can also be found at other Piggly Wiggly stores. For now, the closest Piggly Wiggly to downtown Charleston that's staying open is the one off Rivers Avenue in North Charleston near Otranto Road.

Others in the area slated to stay open are in Hollywood, Moncks Corner and St. George.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.