Trump brings back memories of Piggly Wiggly

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

Donald Trump’s recent speech in Tampa got me thinking about Piggly Wiggly.

Trump again argued for requiring voters to show a photo ID to guard against voter fraud – one of the many myths Trump likes to rant about.

Photo IDs are required for many transactions, even buying groceries, Trump trumpeted.

“You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID. You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture,” he said.

Critics mocked him for being out of touch and obviously not being a regular grocery buyer.

Critics compared his groceries-with-a-photo ID comment to George H.W. Bush’s visit to a supermarket where he marveled over the not-exactly-cutting-edge technology of a price scanner. Bush’s awkward moment didn’t help his campaign when “It’s the economy, stupid” ruled the 1992 presidential race.

Trump’s grocery comment reminded me of my days at Piggly Wiggly, a grocery chain with stores across Minnesota in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. There were two Piggly Wigglys in St. Cloud and while in high school, I worked at the Sixth Avenue store, now a Perkins restaurant.

Sadly, there are no more Piggly Wigglys in Minnesota, but you’ll find a few stores in Wisconsin and there are more than 600 Piggly Wiggly stores in 17 states, primarily in the Midwest and Southeast.

Commonly in the late 1960s, people paid for groceries with paper checks. Not only did they write checks for the amount of purchase, but they used the Piggly Wiggly as their bank. For example, a shopper would buy $20 worth of groceries and write us a check for $50, collecting the difference in cash.

We’d also frequently get payroll and other two-party checks. On payday, a shopper would present us with a $250 or $300 payroll check to cover $50 worth of groceries and we’d give them cash back. (Keep in mind an average worker’s yearly pay in 1969 was less than $6,000 and $50 would buy a heaping cart of groceries. An annual average salary is 10 times as much today.)

On paydays at big employers, such as the railroad car shops in Waite Park, we’d load up on extra $20 and $50 bills.

Before the ubiquitous ATM, the Pig was the cash machine.

Our Sixth Avenue location near the St. Cloud State campus attracted loads of student shoppers, especially on Monday night. Students would return from the weekend at home with a $10 two-party check from mom or dad and stock up on a few bucks worth of macaroni and cheese and take the change in cash.

Maybe the last time Trump bought groceries was during his college days. Because when people paid with a check, we’d often require a photo ID such as a driver’s license.

I knew the regular customers who paid by check and I didn’t ask for ID. But for people I didn’t know, who presented two-party checks or a check with a low sequence number, the customer did need a photo ID for the transaction.

Perhaps Trump is among the 4 percent of shoppers who still buy groceries with a check.

If Donald Trump walked into my Piggly Wiggly with a check from Deutsche Bank and signed by Viktor Vekselberg, I’d definitely make him show an ID to buy his macaroni and cheese.

Author: Mike Knaak

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