Publix shoppers might notice some of their cashiers donning beards — a usual no-go for the Lakeland-based company — but only if they're in South Carolina.
As an online petition started by a Florida Publix employee in 2015 continues garnering signatures, the grocery chain has launched a pilot program to allow beards in select locations. The trial is restricted to only 10 stores in South Carolina, said spokesman Brian West.
The three-year-old petition on coworker.org had about 18,000 signatures as of Tuesday. Brandon Wesley created it when he was 19, with the moniker "#FreeTheBeard," to fight against the chain's facial hair policy.
Publix allows employees to have mustaches and facial hair in some work areas, including its organic Publix GreenWise Markets, the company has said.
Wesley's petition asked that the grocer allow beards with limits on length and the requirement that beard nets be used if the employee works with food. Many petition signers wrote online that having to constantly shave irritates their skin.
While a lot of the petition's activity is years old, people have been signing it steadily in the last few weeks. Attention for the campaign was renewed after a Twitter exchange between a South Carolina shopper and Publix's main account.
That shopper had noticed some beard-wearing men at his store in late January and asked Publix on social media if the beard ban had been lifted. A Publix spokeswoman answered saying they were piloting guidelines that allowed "associates to wear neat, clean, and professional beards and goatee."
Wesley wasn't immediately available for comment, but his public Facebook page still says he works as a grocery clerk for Publix.
He was sporting a thick mustache in his profile photo — which is allowed under the store's traditional policy.
South Carolina has 58 Publix stores, while Florida has 781. The company says it employes more than 188,000 people.
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.