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While no retailer dreams of having to close a store, the best-case scenario would be to have a community rise up in protest if such a situation were to occur. That’s exactly what happened when Piggly Wiggly was forced out of its Crestline location in Mountain Brook, Ala. Residents mounted a social media campaign to “Save The Pig.” The store had been a part of the community for more than 20 years and was owned by Andy Virciglio and his father, Stanley.
Comments on a Change.org petition to protest the closing ranged from “The Pig is the ANCHOR of our village. It is more than a grocery store and business. It is what makes our village special and is truly the heartbeat of Crestline Village,” to “The Crestline Pig is an institution!” Most retailers can only dream of such devotion from their customers.
Shortly after the store’s closing, Naseem Ajlouny was in his real estate agent’s office when the map on the wall caught his eye. He noticed several empty lots in the center of the neighborhood. While those lots together weren’t big enough for the store he envisioned, he instructed the agent to try to buy the strip — a total of seven 150-foot-by-50-foot lots, three of which had houses on them. After several months of negotiations, which included moving a house that had been placed in trust for the Girl Scouts of America, The Pig was on its way back to Crestline.
Naseem and his brother Basim had partnered with Andy on another Piggly Wiggly in the River Run neighborhood of Mountain Brook, and the three joined forces again for the new Crestline Piggly Wiggly. The Ajlouny brothers also operate nine other Piggly Wiggly stores in the Birmingham, Ala., area, and Andy operates a store in Homewood, Ala.
Nearly three years after the original store closed, the new Crestline Piggly Wiggly opened this June. While the neighborhood backed the new store, and the city worked with the partners to clear any obstacles, construction wasn’t without its hurdles. The store was the target of arson on the night of the college football championship game, in which Alabama was playing. While the damage wasn’t as extensive as it could have been — the lights were melted, so the partners switched fixtures and went with energy-saving LEDs, but luckily the sprinkler and air conditioner systems were not yet operational, or the damage would have been much worse — the fire delayed the store opening by six to eight weeks.
“We actually were worried about opening during school,” Naseem says. The store is located right next to the neighborhood’s elementary school. The fire actually relieved that worry by pushing back the opening and making the open-date decision easier. “We decided to not open until after school was out. I think this timing was better,” he adds. The delayed opening will also allow the store to work out any kinks during the slow summer months. Many of the residents leave for the summer, and sales can drop by about 15 percent.
Also, about a month before the store was slated to open, the fire alarms went off just as Naseem and Andy were leaving for the night. The freezer in the upstairs storage room had frozen and the contractor had set some heaters to melt the ice. One of the heaters was close to the sensor for the sprinklers in the freezer, and it set off the sprinklers. The mezzanine floor was flooded with about three inches of water, but luckily no groceries had been delivered yet and the water didn’t seep into the downstairs retail area. “It just cleaned the floors up here before we got any deliveries in,” Naseem jokes.
Open for Business
Once the doors finally opened to the new 26,300-square-foot store (the first floor is 23,000 square feet, with 18,000 square feet devoted to retail space, and the upstairs mezzanine is 3,300 square feet), the neighborhood flooded in — residents had been waiting three years to get their Pig back. “We had a soft opening, but it wasn’t so soft,” Naseem says. A grand opening is planned in August, after most of the customers have returned to town from summer vacations.
While the new store is located in the same neighborhood as the previous location, times had changed enough that the partners knew they had to take a hard look at the product offerings. (The new Piggly Wiggly also is significantly larger than the previous one, which featured only 11,400 square feet of retail space.)