Pig goes big with Newton Farms

By: Caroline Fosse of The Post and Courier Staff  
Originally Published on: 4/26/05  

Freshfields Village supermarket opens at Kiawah, Seabrook entrance

Butchers, bakers and baggers will be joined by a wine and cheese specialist, an executive chef and coffee baristas at a new supermarket unlike any other Piggly Wiggly has ever built.

So different than the everyday Pig it's being called Newton Farms, the new gourmet market at the entrance to Kiawah and Seabrook islands opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The store in the Freshfields Village is a new concept of Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., the Charleston-based operator of more than 120 Piggly Wiggly supermarkets in the Southeast. It's named after the franchise's founders, the Newton family.

To avoid competition with its new sister store, a nearby Piggly Wiggly on Johns Island will close today.

The upscale venture marks a new path for the company, known more for its down-home Southern charm than for upscale offerings. Newton Farms will have neither the look nor feel of a Piggly Wiggly.

The store will be unique in the Charleston area, company president Joseph T. "Buzzy" Newton III said Monday. "It's a lot more than a grocery store. It's an experience."

Architects designed the 33,000-square-foot building to resemble a weathered green barn, a tribute to the area's agricultural heritage. The 60-acre Freshfields Village sits on land that was once a tomato farm, and Johns Island has a long history as a farming community.

The store interior has an open-air market ambiance, with departments including a bakery selling made-from-scratch pastries and breads, a "wine hall" with about 1,800 types of wines, an eat-in deli serving everything from traditional Southern dishes to gourmet pizza, and a floral design studio with fresh-cut flowers. There's also a Starbucks coffee outlet and a concierge desk.

Aside from traditional grocery offerings, Newton Farms will stock items such as exotic produce; organic, natural and specialty foods; wild-caught seafood; and premium-quality meats such as angus and Kobe beef. In season, much of the store's produce will come directly from Johns Island growers.

Despite its upscale offerings, items sold at Piggly Wiggly stores and at Newton Farms will be available at the same price, Newton said. Piggly Wiggly customer reward cards will be accepted at the new store, as will Freshfields cards.

The store will host a farmer's market on Saturdays, starting Memorial Day weekend.

Company officials traveled around the country, as far as California, gathering ideas for the gourmet supermarket. But the store won't stray entirely from its roots. "This is still the South and we're still putting the Southern touches on things," Newton said.

That includes selling Southern specialty foods and merchandise such as sweetgrass baskets.

Store manager Jeff Harrell said the store has something for everyone, from the old stand-bys to more unusual offerings. That means shoppers can nab a box of corn flakes in one aisle and find white truffle oil in another.

If the gourmet grocery concept is successful, company officials say they'll consider opening stores in other markets, such as Columbia or Myrtle Beach.

Freshfields Village is the largest commercial development yet to serve the growing sea island communities of Kiawah, Seabrook and Johns islands. Developers are hoping the center will draw area residents as well as the thousands of tourists who visit the islands each year.

Two Piggly Wiggly supermarkets are within 10 miles of the complex: a small one in Island Center and a larger one at the corner of Maybank Highway and Main Road. Over the years, shoppers have dubbed those Johns Island stores the "little Pig" and the "big Pig."

As part of the agreement to build Newton Farms, Piggly Wiggly agreed to close the little Pig, Newton said. The store will close for good at 7 p.m. tonight. The big Pig likely will be expanded, he added.

Nearby residents are wistful about the closing of a longtime landmark.

"It's a good, all-around neighborhood grocery store. Everybody knows you," said Tammy Stine, who's been shopping at the little Pig for about 13 years.

The Johns Island resident said she worried the new store wouldn't have the same vibe. "I think it was built with tourists in mind, not the community," she said.

Still, she said she'd give Newton Farms a chance. "It's just really hard to say goodbye here," she said as she made a last stop at the little Pig to pick up some infant formula.

Others were excited about the new development.

Freshfields Village is becoming a gathering place for the surrounding communities, said Janet Sbihli, a Seabrook Island resident who recently opened Carolina Clay Gallery in the shopping complex.

"They created a town for us," she said.

 
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