Son of former owner saves Holly Hill Piggly Wiggly

Holly Hill Piggly Wiggly owner, Rocky Bell (middle) is pictured with his daughter, Morgan Bell (left), and father Vernon Bell.

Rocky Bell was just a young lad when he left Florence to move to with his family to Holly Hill.

"My father, Vernon Bell Sr., took over the Piggly Wiggly as an independent store owner," Bell said of the move in 1962.

Early on, he worked at the store after school with his sister, bagging potatoes and onions; then his father had other plans. In 1968, Vernon Bell purchased some land and built a store of his own.

"We ran the store until 2002 when we sold out to Piggly Wiggly Carolina out of Charleston," Rocky said.

For the past decade, the Bell family had been out of the grocery business. Earlier this year, that changed.

"Piggly Wiggly Carolina was getting out of the grocery wholesale business and started selling off their stores to other grocery chains," Rocky said. "The stores that were not sold were offered to other independent operators and Piggly Wiggly employees."

The Holly Hill Piggly Wiggly was scheduled to shut its doors after at least five decades of providing the grocery needs for the town. That was when Rocky came to the rescue.

"It came down to if we did not buy the store, they were going to close it," Bell said. "We could not let that happen because we have been a part of the Holly Hill community for so long. We have had long-time relationships with generations of customers and employees in our community over the years."

Because of that, he ended up buying back the store.

"A small business is always a struggle, but with the support from the community, we will continue to serve as your local Piggly Wiggly," Bell said, expressing special thanks to Robert Masche and Joe Pinto of Piggly Wiggly Carolina and Tom Hutto of Holly Hill's Farmers and Merchants Bank for assisting in preserving the grocery store.

The past two years have brought major changes to the area's Piggly Wiggly grocery stores.

The North Piggly Wiggly closed in May 2013 after the Piggly Wiggly Carolinas lease ended. A year and a half later, the 10,000-square-foot building is still vacant.

Orangeburg's Columbia Road Piggly Wiggly closed May 24, 2014, and the Russell Street Piggly Wiggly closed shortly afterward.

The stores were not associated with the Piggly Wiggly grocery stores on Edisto Drive and in Neeses, which are separately owned and remain open. The stores were also not associated with the Piggly Wiggly Carolina closures.

Chuck Fogle of Fogle's Inc. announced last month he is renovating and expanding the former Columbia Road Piggly Wiggly. Fogle will also take over the Piggly Wiggly store in Denmark currently owned by the Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company. He said he has no interest in the Russell Street store.

In the meantime, Rocky Bell says he is just happy to have been a part of keeping The Pig in Holly Hill.

"As far as purchasing other locations, we are not able at this time because we need to keep all of our resources in the Holly Hill Pig," he said.