Four toilets for 8.8 million people

The situation is well known: you are somewhere in the middle of nowhere and you urgently need to go to the bathroom. What to do? You could for example go to the website look and find that there are almost 200,000 listed in the USA alone, but the closest one is more than three miles away. That’s why there’s also the common sense method: You simply enter the nearest Starbucks branch into the mobile phone navigation. You can go to the toilet there even if you don’t buy anything.

This has been the case since May 2018, after an incident in which the group was subjected to serious allegations of racism. Two African Americans sat in a branch in Philadelphia; they hadn’t bought anything yet because they were waiting for business partners. A member of staff asked if they wanted to order anything; when they said no, one of the two was denied access to the toilet. The clerk called the police and the men were taken away in handcuffs. In addition to other measures Starbucks that everyone can use the toilets – regardless of whether someone is a customer or not.

Sounded good, mainly because from that point on people knew that almost everywhere – there are more than 15,000 Starbucks stores in the United States and almost 34,000 worldwide – there is a working and mostly very clean toilet, including washbasin. Problem solved. Or?

Well, the company announced last week that it wanted to reconsider the open bathroom policy. “I don’t know if we can continue like this,” said Starbucks boss Howard Schultz at a conference New York Times in Washington, citing the well-being of customers and employees, which is currently at risk, as the reason for this. “100 million people come to us. We have to ensure their safety.”

In numerous US cities, Starbucks takes on the role of public toilets

Several things happened at once, and they don’t reflect well on infrastructure and conditions in the United States and what can happen if politicians rely on the market to take care of everything in a society.

An example for better understanding from downtown Los Angeles: Under a bridge over 3rd Street, there lives one whom she only dice to name. He doesn’t like the term “homeless”; That’s why they call him “unhoused”, i.e. someone without an official address. Dice has a couch for visitors and a rather chic teapot, but above all he has: WLAN, because his domicile is only a few meters away from a Starbucks branch, where there is free Internet access. Dice also goes to the toilet there, where he washes himself three times a day and brushes his teeth. The Starbucks toilet is his bathroom.

That’s nice for Dice, especially that shows a look at, because the nearest public toilet is two kilometers away; and whoever inspects them should see the toilet in the film train spotting, which it describes as the “dirtiest toilet in all of Scotland”, for a luxury establishment. Yes, really, it’s as gross as this reads now. No sane person would rather go there than Starbucks. The group takes on the role of public toilets in numerous US cities. If you need to go to the bathroom, you go to Starbucks.

Perhaps a number to give you a better understanding: There are a total of 1,100 public restrooms in New York City for 8.8 million residents plus commuters and tourists, of which just four are open 24 hours a day – in a city that prides itself on it, never to sleep. Quick tip for tourists: The ones at the Port Authority bus station are now in a tolerable condition again. There are thousands of pubs in this city, clothing stores, supermarkets. Anyone who buys something there – or at least pretends to do so in a department store – can use the toilet, and there is Starbucks with its 250 branches in Manhattan alone.

In Los Angeles, a walk is currently considered a hurdle race over feces

As early as 2019, a joint study by the universities of Boston College and Texas/Dallas with the data analysis company SafeGraph showed that this could create a problem for Starbucks. On the one hand, the number of visitors fell by almost seven and the average visit time by 4.2 percent. The conclusion of the study: less revenue due to people just hanging around in branches, but at the same time higher costs to clean the toilets. Starbucks contradicted the study with its own figures – according to which both sales (five percent) and transactions (two percent) had increased.

Then the pandemic came and, like so many other things, changed the toilet situation in many cities, because: when department stores and clothing stores are closed, when restaurants and bars only accept take-out and orders and fast food and coffee house chains lock their toilets – where are they supposed to people relieve themselves when the public sector has counted on private companies to take care of it? Has anyone wondered why the narrow streets of Manhattan smelled worse in the fall of 2021 than they did in the 1970s? If you have to, you have to – no matter where. Even in Los Angeles or San Francisco, a walk is currently considered a hurdle race over piles of faeces.

Schultz has been interim boss of Starbucks since March, it’s his third term, and the 69-year-old wants to stop for good at the beginning of next year. His announcement is less of a fuss than a recognition that there is no obligation for companies to provide toilets free of charge. “We have to do something,” he says, and of course he means his company. At the same time, however, it is also a request to the cities to finally make sure that there are enough toilets for people who urgently need to get up look for one

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