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  1. Business

Carlton: Please, Publix, give peace (and pastrami) a chance

Published Feb. 9, 2017

Dear Publix,

Okay, let's get the sappy part out of the way.

Some of us who grew up with you — walking through your automatic doors into the smell of baking bread, weighing ourselves since kindergarten on those big scales in your lobbies, watching polite bag boys roll our moms' groceries to the car — well, we would sooner bleed Publix green than shop another store.

So for us, the news this week was small but devastating.

The traditionally free slice of deli meat — a courtesy reverently passed across the deli counter from plastic-gloved clerk to customer awaiting his half-pound of cracked pepper turkey — is no more.

At least not at a few dozen Publixes where the company is, in a spokesman's disheartening words, "piloting a change."

Oh, sure, you can request that piece of pastrami. But as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, if you have to ask, well, let's just say the magic is running low.

What's next? Banning the free bakery cookie that has quieted generations of cranky kids, potentially preventing them from hurling themselves from their shopping cart seats to run down the aisles, knocking over pyramids of pickle jars and pasta boxes?

Perish the very idea.

But seriously, Publix, have you thought this through?

Because that wafer-thin circle of smoked ham — that little slice of kindness passed from you to us for as long as we can remember — has nothing to do with being free. Okay, maybe for some hard-core moochers it does. But for a lot us, it has more to do with being nice.

You remember nice.

Maybe you have noticed a little tension in the world lately. No matter our political stripe, most of us cannot remember being so clearly and angrily separated into Them and Us. We road rage. We get violent over a cellphone in a movie theater or our neighbor's wind chimes.

Even when someone remembers to say thank you for, say, holding the elevator for some for-the-love-of-god-would-you-hurry-up slowpoke, the currently accepted response is "no problem." Better than nothing, but don't you miss "you're welcome"?

Wouldn't Publix's patriarch, the late George "Where Shopping Is a Pleasure" Jenkins, be mortified at this Taking Back of the Slice? It's right there on the company website under "Lessons From Our Founder" — six values in which he believed, like "Invest in Others" (by giving them a taste of tavern ham!) and "Treat Customers Like Royalty."

Not like greedy grifters who now must beg for a bite.

Though Publix says it's not about cutting costs, do we really believe them? Surely their bean counters know to the penny how many millions of pounds of Muenster and maple ham have been given out gratis over the years.

But I ask you — what about all the goodwill this gesture has surely engendered for just as long?

It's unknowable, I know. But how many middle fingers were not raised in traffic? How many shouting arguments over small slights never did spark, because someone had a nice moment at the deli counter and was one infinitesimal iota less tense?

Please, Publix, loosen up on the lunch meat. Rethink the roast beef.

Think peace, through pastrami.

Sincerely,

A loyal customer

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