A hot topic has been the opening of a new shopping center that is structured with "green" energy-efficient buildings, has numerous amenities and offers a plethora of retail options.
Manatee County business and agriculture entrepreneur K.W. Wiggins was on the cusp of future retail trends in the early 20th century.
A resident of the town of Manatee, he saw opportunities for business growth following the completion of a railroad into Manatee in late 1902. Wiggins used his proximity to the railroad to transport bricks to construct a general store and storage facility. By April 1903, he had let the contract for his new two-story building at the corner of Main Street and Manatee Avenue and opened it a few months later.
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(The original building has been restored and is known to locals and tourists as the Wiggins General Store at Manatee Village Historical Park.)
King Wiggins realized that with Manatee County covering some 5,000 square miles in 1855, an area which eventually divided into the counties of Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, DeSoto, Charlotte and Glades, he could draw from a large consumer base.
They could come by boat,
with the river just five streets away, or by horse-drawn wagon or buggy. Residents in these new counties would eventually patronize cities within their own boundaries, but at the turn of the century, if you wanted the best selection of groceries, dry goods and gadgets in Manatee County, you made what could be a several day's journey to the Wiggins Store.
As one of the area's first brick buildings, he incorporated energy-efficient construction techniques: air pockets between each two layers of brick, porches on three sides of the two-story structure and many large windows for cross-ventilation.
Wiggins designed the building for several uses. His general store and a large storage area occupied the ground floor. Since roads were few then and travel by night precarious, the second floor provided overnight rooms for customers who traveled from remote parts of the county to buy his goods.
The Wiggins Store became a gathering spot for the Manatee community. Customers lingered to catch up on village news, to listen to Wiggins' phonograph or to play a game of checkers.
In his book, The Singing River, author Joe Warner relates that when King Wiggins opened his first store, his ads conveyed that the store was first class in every way offering up-to-date goods.
K.W. became an agent for Victor bicycles, which were popular as local roads were gradually paved with shell taken from the Indian mounds, and it was much easier to ride a bicycle over the surface than using a horse or buggy.
A few years later, Wiggins moved from his store on Main and Manatee Avenue to the western end of the Davis building.
Step into the Wiggins Store today and you enter a turn-of-the century general store, with merchandise of the times lining the counter, shelves and glass cases. It continues to beckon and fascinate park visitors of every age and country.
Christine A. Brown, special events coordinator for the Manatee Village Historical Park, is a strong believer in museum education and the study of history. She can be reached at email@example.com or 941-741-4076.