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Last two Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in Denton set to close Saturday

Jack Harris remembers the first time he started working at a Piggly Wiggly - and now he will remember his last.

Jack Harris remembers the first time he started working at a Piggly Wiggly - and now he will remember his last.

"It was September 12, 1953," he said of the time he worked at an Illinois store. "I put the first case of green beans on the shelf."

Now, 56 years later, Harris finds himself without a job as the Denton stores close their doors.

Harris worked three days a week at the Piggly Wiggly store on Sherman Drive in Denton as a stock boy. A week ago, the 80-year-old learned he would no longer be an employee at one of Denton's two long-established Piggly Wiggly stores - both slated to close Saturday, the last of five Texas stores carrying the Piggly Wiggly name under the ownership of Affiliated Foods Southwest Inc. of Little Rock, Ark.

The Piggly Wiggly stores have been more than just a grocery chain for many - it's been almost like a longtime family business, which it was for many years in small-town communities like Denton.

H.S. Osborne started the Osborne Grocery Co. and bought the first Denton Piggly Wiggly store in 1947. It was then located at Hickory and Cedar streets.

Since the beginning, the family-owned and family-friendly stores have been surrounded by loyal customers and faithful employees.

Like Harris, the employees at the Piggly Wiggly hardly left for other careers.

If they did, they often returned. Larry Arnett, produce manager at the Sherman Drive store in Denton, first started at Piggly Wiggly 38 years ago.

"I have worked at all of them, some of them twice. I have worked here twice," he said of his history with the Pig, as some customers call it.

"I was here when they opened this thing," Arnett said. "I helped build this thing."

Now, he says, if anyone needs a produce man - the main job he held during his Piggly Wiggly career - they should give him a call.

Sitting at the customer service area, Arnett said, simply, "Give me some job."

Maria Gallardo, a scan coordinator at the Sherman Drive store, has seen several of the grocery chain's stores close in the area.

"I used to work at the Lewisville store and that was closed, and then I came here and now this one is closing," she said.

Since last Tuesday, when corporate officials announced the stores' closing, many customers have asked employees the same question: "What are you going to do?"

Bettie Ann Huggins, a faithful customer, asked cashier Malynda Allen that same question recently. The answer? Apply somewhere else.

Huggins said she will miss her sweet potatoes, since they could only be found at the Piggly Wiggly.

"There are not many places in town and it's too far to go to Albertsons," Huggins said.

At home, Harris prepared for his paid vacation - offered to all employees at Piggly Wiggly. That same day, he was also celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary.

"I'm going up north to a cabin in Indianapolis I bought five years ago with my wife, Amy," Harris said.

He is just going away to his cabin for the summer to spend time with his family who lives nearby - three children, 14 grandchildren and two grandsons.

But Harris plans to find another part-time job when he returns.

Many others are in that same boat. Managers, cashiers, meat cutters, and grocery and produce people - about 46 in all - will find themselves without a place to go next Monday.

Coy Sturdivant, a manager at the McKinney Street store, said the store's motto - "Down home, Down the street" - pretty much described the overall feeling. It was the town's store where people knew each other by name.

"I hope we all show up in another store, so we can keep seeing each other," he said.

Eduardo Alvarado, a bilingual teacher in Denton, says the stores are symbolic for the older generation.

"It represented an old way of life, a slower type of life," he said. "It is not just a building with shelves, it is a connection of a more innocent time, when people would say good morning and be more polite."

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