Piggly Wiggly mascot in front of a store (© Piggly Wiggly (Wisconsin & Illinois) via Facebook)
A change is coming to a beloved Southern grocery chain, and it's not going over well with customers. 

Piggly Wiggly Carolina, the colorfully named grocery chain, is selling about half of its locations to bigger rivals, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. That means only about 30 stores will remain operated by the company, along with some additional franchises, which Piggly Wiggly's spokesman describes as bittersweet.

Loyal customers are mourning this development. South Carolina newspaper The Moultrie News writes, "Saying goodbye to Piggly Wiggly is hard to do." The editorial added, "Piggly Wiggly grocery stores have been part of the familiar landscape and part of the culture of how we eat, meet and live."

Why is a beloved grocery chain selling out? Because of debt the company took on in converting to an employee stock-ownership plan, along with the pressures of increased competition, according to Supermarket News. 

Bi-Lo Holdings will buy about 22 stores and Harris Teeter Supermarkets (HTSI) will buy six, according to a statement earlier this month from Piggly Wiggly, whose tag line is "local since forever."

Those local offerings are one reason Southern shoppers adore Piggly Wiggly, which has shelves stocked with favorites such as smooth grits and Duke's mayonnaise, Businessweek writes. 

Shoppers in Mountain Brook, Ala., are organizing a campaign and a Facebook (FB) page to "Save the Crestline Pig," referring to their nearby Piggly Wiggly, which is facing another fate: closure. The store will shut its doors in November after failing to work out a lease agreement.

Some of the comments might make executives at other grocery chains green with envy, given the loyalty and affection for the brand. 

"I apologize for crying through your store today," one woman wrote, according to AL.com. "This decision will certainly impact your employees more than it will me; please know that is part of my grief."

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

More on moneyNOW