FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) — Grocery shopping at Piggly Wiggly is a tradition in South Carolina, and that's something Lynn Willard has known for more than 30 years.

Willard is the new owner of both Piggly Wiggly locations in Florence: the store at the Florence Mall on West Palmetto and the other on Cherokee Road - where he began his career in 1985.

"I've been with the Pig almost my whole life," he said. "I started as a bagger when I was in high school and worked a variety of positions. I've done almost everything there is to do in Piggly Wiggly, and it started right here in Florence."

With his purchase of the two Florence stores, Willard is now the owner of nine Pig locations throughout the state's low-country area.

And while Willard and his wife, Cindy B. Willard, currently live in Mount Pleasant, he saw an opportunity to re-root in a community he calls home with the purchase of the Florence locations. He sees it as a homecoming.

"It's home to me, so I've always been interested in these stores," said Willard, who is a Wilson High School graduate. "It was a big deal since it increased my ownership by 50 percent. It was hard to keep emotion for this area out of the business side of things."

Willard values the experience, depth and commitment of his employees who believe they are part of something special and local.

He said there won't be many changes to the winning formula that keeps drawing customers back to Piggly Wiggly, but he has some ideas in mind such as expanding selections and variety throughout, local items, fresh seafood and meat that is cut and packaged in the store.

"We won't do any structural changes, but we'll make sure these stores have what customers in this market need," he said. "We don't have fancy market studies or large data-mining operations. We are small, but we listen to our customers and deliver what they tell us."