HEB - A Lesson
in the Grocery Business
Thornton Butt moved to Kerrville
from Memphis in 1904 with a sick husband and 3 small sons. On November
26, 1905 she opened a small grocery store below her family's modest
apartment at 812 Main Street in Kerrville.
| Original HEB
812 Main Street in Kerrville
courtesy of the Kerr County Historical Commission
$60 on inventory - money she borrowed from relatives in Tennessee.
The business grossed $50.60 in its first month.
Originally advertised as Mrs. F. T. Butt Grocery, Florence changed
the name to C. C. Butt Grocery after her husband Charles. In early
20th Century America, a business named for a man was more socially
The business grew, slow and steady, especially after Florence began
offering free delivery. The delivery vehicle was 10 year old son
Howard's wagon. Courtesy and fair dealing were the cornerstones
of the business.
On December 26, 1911 Florence moved her store from its Main Street
location to the ground floor of the Masonic building on Earl Garrett
Street in Kerrville.
| Masonic Building
Earl Garrett Street
2nd Home of C. C. Butt Grocery
Barr, June 2016
son Howard clerked at the store until he graduated from Tivy High
School in 1914. After serving in the Navy in World
War I, Howard returned to Kerrville
and assumed active management of the family business.
The C. C. Butt Grocery Company didn't succeed by standing still
or playing it safe. Howard tried new things. Some worked, some didn't.
In 1920 the company opened its first branch store in Center
Point and a feed and seed store in Kerrville.
In 1922 Howard changed the business model from a credit based system
to a cash and carry system. Instead of charging, customers settled
the invoice in cash at the time of purchase.
In 1925 the Butt family bought the Kerrville Piggly Wiggly grocery
store at 233 Earl Garrett Street, combined the businesses and began
operating as C. C. Butt Piggly Wiggly. The world was about to get
a lesson in the grocery business.
the old days of grocery shopping, a shopper handed her grocery list
to the store clerk who gathered the items for her.
Then in the early 20th Century, Clarence Saunders of Memphis, Tennessee
had a crazy new idea - a self-service grocery store. Each item was
marked with a price. Shoppers did their own shopping from open shelves
using a new contraption - a shopping cart.
In 1916 Saunders founded a chain of Piggly Wiggly grocery stores
using the modern self-service business model. The Piggly Wiggly
system revolutionized the grocery business.
Howard Butt saw the future of grocery shopping at Piggly Wiggly.
He wanted to build a chain of grocery stores using the open shelf,
The new business model propelled the Kerrville
store to record profits. Howard plowed the profits back into the
The company grew rapidly. In four years the C. C. Butt Piggly Wiggly
Company opened branches in Junction,
Gonzales and Del
to demand in an area of Texas long neglected, the company moved
heavily into the lower Rio Grande Valley. In 1929 Howard moved the
company headquarters from Kerrville
In 1935 Howard changed the name of the parent organization from
the C. C. Butt Grocery Company to the Howard E. Butt Company. In
1946 he shortened the name to HEB.
In 1930 the company operated 17 stores with 2 million in annual
sales. By 1936 the company had 31 stores and by 1940, 38 stores.
The newest stores had air-conditioning.
The relationship between the Butt family and Piggly Wiggly was only
a franchise arrangement. The Butt family owned and operated the
stores. In 1944 the company dropped the Piggly Wiggly name and began
operating as HEB Food Stores.
The company moved its headquarters from Harlingen
Christi in 1940. In 1985 headquarters moved again into the historic
San Antonio Arsenal that once furnished arms and munitions to frontier
Today Charles E. Butt, son of Howard Butt and grandson of Florence
Butt, runs the company. HEB operates over 300 stores in Texas and
52 stores in Mexico. It is one of the largest family-owned retail
food chains in the world.
Founder Mrs. F. T. Butt
courtesy of the Kerr County Historical Commission KCHC
© Michael Barr
January 15, 2018 Column
"Parent Store of C. C. Butt Piggly Wiggly Chain Had Meager
Start 25 Years Ago," Kerrville Mountain Sun, November 20, 1930.
"Building's History a Part of Kerrville's Growth," Kerrville Daily
Times, September 22, 1985.
"Kerrville Company to Operate Grocery Store at Del Rio," Kerrville
Sun Times, August 19, 1926.
"HEB Stores Started in Old Frame Building in Kerrville," Kerrville
Mountain Sun, January 14, 1960.
"Company Started as a Small Store 110 Years Ago," San Antonio Express-News,
March 11, 2015.
The Handbook of Texas.