End near for Tenney Bowl, former home of Kewanee's Piggly Wiggly

2022-05-10 09:05:56 By : Mr. William Lin

A Kewanee building constructed over 60 years ago and described at the time as a "modern miracle in shopping comfort" will soon be torn down.

On Oct. 18, 1955, Piggly Wiggly introduced Kewanee to a new era in grocery shopping when they opened something called a "supermarket" at 417 Tenney St.

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The one-story, yellow brick building covered 12,000 square feet under one roof, with 8,000 square feet of that devoted to "selling area" with a 200-car parking lot.

At the time, Kewanee's major chain grocery stores — Kroger, A & P, and National Tea Co. — were all located downtown, where both parking and store space were limited.

Piggly Wiggly, based in Rockford, was building a whole chain new-era supermarkets —they owned 26 in the upper Midwest — where parking, shopping and selection would cater to the public's growing love affair with the automobile.

The Piggly Wiggly had five "speedy and accurate" checkout lanes. Among the innovations were mechanical checkout counters with conveyor belts to move purchases along.

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Also introduced was a "unique" system for handling bags of purchased groceries. Store clerks, or "bag boys" sacked the shopper's items while she (or he) went to the parking lot and drove their car back to the front door of the store where they were loaded into their car by the clerk eliminating what would otherwise be lengthy and numerous trips back and forth to the car.

Another new twist was a self-service, pre-packaged meat department where shoppers could select products that were ready to go thereby saving time which could be spent browsing the aisles for other items to possibly buy. These things are normal today, but in the 1950s, they were revolutionary. The store also had a check cashing booth and gave out S&H Green Stamps.

A redemption center was located in the main building at first, but soon expanded to space in the rear of the Kewanee Coca-Cola bottling plant nearby. The night of the grand opening, and for the next two nights, a Hollywood-style searchlight scanned a long, tall beam back and forth in the sky over Kewanee.

The location, just west of the intersection of Tenney and McClure streets, was not Piggly Wiggly's first choice. A search of the Star Courier archives revealed that on June 3, 1954, the company announced plans to open a Piggly Wiggly Super Market on Routes 34 and 78 "on the south limits of the city on property now occupied by the Rainbow Garden Roller Skating Rink," at 718 Tenney St., roughly the location of the present-day Burger King restaurant. The plan was to add 4,000-square feet of space to the roller rink building.

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But on Jan. 7,1955, the company announced a change of plans. They were leasing property at 417 Tenney Street from Wayne Maxwell after deciding that a new, more adequate building could be built there that was "more worthy of a city like Kewanee."

Just before the opening, Piggly Wiggly ran and ad in the Star Courier announcing "It's no secret — this will be the most colorful store in the Midwest!" Maxwell told the Star Courier he envisioned a "Tenney Village Shopping Center" in the east half of the 400 block of Tenney Street, most of which he owned. He said there was room for 14 more stores and thought he might move his Vogue women's clothing store (now the Kewanee Historical Society Museum) from its downtown location to Tenney Street. He apparently changed his mind. 

Ten years later, some people apparently didn't think the Tenney Street Piggly Wiggly building was as "adequate" as they would like. Piggly Wiggly Food Centers, by then a subsidiary of Consolidated Foods of Chicago, along with Eagle Food Centers based in Milan, announced they would build a new store "designed to make shopping easier and more convenient." It would be built on the west side of the 400 block of South Main Street, just across Oak Street from the new Country School Restaurant which had opened in July of 1966. The property was rezoned, houses moved away, and a 130-by-132-foot store with an 85-car parking lot was built at 401 S. Main St.

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It opened on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1966, after the old Piggly Wiggly closed its doors the previous Saturday. Consolidated Foods had announced in August of 1965 that it was divesting itself of Eagle Foods and Piggly Wiggly properties, including Kewanee, over the next three years, but went ahead with plans to build the new Piggly Wiggly store in Kewanee anyway.

A short time later, after some corporate restructuring, the Piggly Wiggly name across the front of the store on South Main was changed to Eagle Foods. Today, the building is the home of Kewanee's Save-a-Lot Food Store.

Maxwell soon found a new tenant for the old Piggly Wiggly building — Wickes Lumber Co., which opened a building center. Later, the building was occupied by Wheels Away Roller Rink and Tenney Bowl, which closed several years ago, leaving it empty ever since.

Over the years an auto parts store and a laundromat were among the businesses which located in storefronts available at the south end of the building.

The property, which includes the building and just over three acres of land, was purchased by Community State Bank, with its Kewanee branch along Tenney Street, from Maxwell's grandson, Mark Jorgenson, of Wisconsin.

CSB Executive Vice President Lyle Ince said the acquisition gives the bank room for additional parking, control of adjacent property, and room for future development. He said the building had to go, due to its age and condition. Removal of asbestos and other costs made it more feasible to demolish the structure than remodel it for any other purpose.