The Real Reason Why Southerners Are Obsessed with Publix
Yes, the subs are amazing. But it’s more than that.
Like a lot of Southerners, I’m not shy about my feelings about Publix. I was born and raised in Florida and spent countless hours shopping there with my mother and grandmother. If we were “going to the store,” we were going to Publix. The familiar sight of brown plastic grocery bags and aroma of Publix fried chicken is as much of a part of my Florida childhood as playing at the beach.
As an adult, I moved up North and mourned the loss of Publix every time I shopped at my local supermarket. The aisles were tiny, the produce was pallid. Whenever I went back home to Florida to visit my parents, a trip to Publix was as essential as visiting family members. Pushing an empty cart around the spotless store, cruising the abundant produce section, listening to the eternal soundtrack of 70’s soft rock, I felt right at home.
As an adult, I moved back down South with my own family. Publix was the first destination after we arrived. We needed to stock up on essentials, but I also needed a dose of instant familiarity. I was starting over in a new city, but there was the bakery, there were the friendly cashiers, there was the fried chicken smell. Publix was the same.
When people ask me why I am obsessed with this Southern grocery chain, it’s easy to rattle off the usual list. The stores are big, bright, clean, and well stocked. The Publix brand products are surprisingly good, with well-designed packaging. I have yet to find a store brand product at Publix that is not comparable to a name brand. The bakery is full of freshly-made items—a baguette and multigrain loaf goes into my shopping cart every week. And their desserts, especially the custom birthday cakes, are a cut above the usual supermarket baked goods. Not to mention the fried chicken. And the subs! Those wonderful Pub Subs with a cult following.
All of that said, the people who work at Publix are the real secret to the company’s success, and the real reason why “shopping is a pleasure,” as the slogan goes. Publix employees are always friendly, always quick to help, always smiling. (I have had a single bad encounter with a Publix employee in all my years of shopping there and I’m pretty sure she was just having a bad day.)
Last weekend, like every weekend, I loaded my grocery bags and my two-year-old son into the car and headed to Publix to do the shopping for the week. First stop is always the bakery, where he gets a free cookie and a chance to practice ‘please and thank you’ with the nice ladies who work behind the counter.
Next stop is the produce department, where we see Mr. Peter. Even though he is always busy stocking the shelves with fruits and vegetables, Peter always makes time to greet my son with a fist bump and get him a balloon. He is the highlight of our shopping trip, even more than the cookie—the highest complement a two-year-old can give. “What color would you like today, my friend?” Peter asks, as the two of them head over to the floral department to pick out a balloon. Every week it is a different color, today it is green with white polka dots.
Somewhere during the course of our shopping, the balloon disappears. I don’t notice it is gone until we’re at the check out line, with half of our items already on the conveyor belt. “Uh-oh, what happened to your balloon?” I immediately regret the words as soon as they leave my mouth. Here comes a tantrum.
Before tears can erupt, I look over at the floral department and there it is, the green balloon with white polka dots. “Look! There’s your balloon!” I exclaim, a little too excitedly. “We’ll be right back,” I tell the cashier, a lovely woman who we chat with every week. “Sure, honey,” she replies. We rush over to the floral department, grab the balloon, and rush back to pay for the groceries. Crisis averted.
And that’s Publix in a nutshell. Not only did someone take time out of his busy day to give my son a balloon, someone else found the balloon in the store and thought to bring it back to a place where we’d find it. It might seem like a small thing, but in today’s world, a little kindness goes a long way.