Family Tradition Ends With New Year
TONY STINNETT, Courier Co-Editor
They have come to expect fair, competitive prices, quality products and Arna Smithson’s smiling face, but after 39 years in the business, Smithson is retiring and selling the Piggly Wiggly in Woodbury.
Jim Myers, who owns three Piggly Wiggly stores, as well as a Save-A-Lot, will purchase the Woodbury Piggly Wiggly from Smithson, effective Jan. 1, 2012, Smithson has announced.
“I feel like now is the time to do it,” says Smithson, whose family has been in the grocery business in Woodbury since 1946. “The main thing I will miss is our business is our customers. We have been here so long you almost know which day certain customers will be coming into the store. You are going to miss those people. I don’t know that I will miss the grocery business, but I will miss the customers.
“(Wife Teena) and I have decided to retire, but we want to take the time to thank everyone that supported us with all of the encouragement and shopping with us through the years. We want to thank every employee that worked with us no matter how long you were with us. We could not have made it this many years without all of them. We have to give the greatest thanks to God, who gave us this opportunity to work and serve some of the most wonderful people on earth, the people of Cannon County.”
Customer service always has been at the top of Smithson’s list – a quality learned from his dad, Coy, who started in the grocery business in 1946 in the Woodland community. Coy Smithson later moved his business to Woodbury, where he would operate out of three different locations.
“My dad always said when a customer comes into the store you treat them all the same regardless of who they are,” Arna recalls. “That has always been my philosophy. You treat everyone the same and give them the best product you can at a decent price.”
Under Smithson’s watch, Piggly Wiggly became more than a local grocery store where people purchased good. It became an institution in the community and much of that has to do with the manner in which Smithson supported the local schools system.
“A lot of people who come in here today shopped with my dad and that goes back a long time,” Smithson says. “Many of those people now have kids who are grown and they shop with us, and they have kids in the schools. We have been a big supporter of our school system in Woodbury, and I don’t regret a thing we’ve done because one of these days these people are going to be taking care of us. Getting to know the people and their kids in school has been a big plus. I think a lot of people shop with us because of what we do in the community.”
Indeed, Smithson’s Piggly Wiggly has done more than provide a service for its community. The store has provided numerous opportunities for young people who may not have otherwise enjoyed them. Smithson’s Piggly Wiggly has supported sports teams in the schools, various clubs, grammar school harvest festivals, community organizations and events, individuals raising money to attend a seminar or national convention, as well as individual benefits for someone who may have lost a home to a fire or became too ill to work and could not afford groceries.
Smithson’s good will was recognized last May when he was a member of the first Cannon County Hall of Fame induction class. He went into the Hall of Fame as a contributor.
Arna and his brother, Adron, purchased the grocery business from their dad in 1972 at the location in the Hancock Shopping Center on South McCrary Street, and then moved into a new store in Woodbury Center under the name of Big Star.
When Adron’s health began to decline, Arna and Teena purchased his interest in the business in 1985. They then bought a franchise from Piggly Wiggly and have operated the store under the name since.
In all, Arna and Teena have been in grocery business 39 years and the family was in the business for 65 years.
“There have been a lot of fun times and a lot of hard work,” Arna admits. “We have many fond memories of our customers and our employees. We have had some very sad times with the loss of two dedicated and long-time employees, Jerry Franklin and Charlie Joe Barrett, as well as others. We have employed and become close friends with many wonderful people through the years.”
Smithson has been in business long enough to have had three generations of a family work at the business – Bonnie Estes, son Jeff Estes and granddaughter Kelsie Estes. Mike Vance, his three children and a niece also worked for Smithson.
Treating people the way he would want to be treated enabled Smithson to enjoy a long run in the grocery business in Woodbury. It also landed him Piggly Wiggly’s highest honor.
Arna Smithson was the recipient of the Clark Saunders Award for the 2001 Operator of the Year. The award is based on increase in sales and longevity of employees. Out of more than 1,100 stores, Smithson’s was best.
Smithson also has seen major changes in grocery business through the years.
“We have seen many changes since starting in business,” Smithson says. “The first registers were manual and didn’t add the sales tax atomically, or tell you the amount of change to give back. We also had to price everything with stampers. There were no food coupons, credit cards, debit cards, ATM’s or computers. With the invention of computers came scanners to read UPC codes and then nothing had to be stamped. The registers had the ability to add sales tax to the order and tell you the amount to give back. That was great.”
Arna may be retiring, but he says Teena already has plenty for him to do.
“There is always something to do around the house and as much yard work as I’ve got to do there probably won’t be a dull moment,” Smithson said. “I have cars I like to fool with. I have a truck that I like to show, and I just bought a 1962 Impala that I’m working on so I have things to do. I enjoy fooling with the cars so that’s what I’m going to do for awhile.”
Smithson may be retiring but the longstanding relationship he developed with Cannon Countians through many decades will be a lasting legacy.