People of New York! There's some big news out of Starbucks, and it might mean a solution to one of the most annoying things about living and working here--something that everybody talks about but nobody has been able to solve until now.

In short, Starbucks says you can use their bathrooms--apparently almost anywhere, anytime.

No need to buy a coffee. No need to be a customer. No need to do anything, really, except ask for the key (or the code) to the bathroom.

I don't need to tell 8.6 million New Yorkers (plus all the others who work and visit here) why this is a big deal. But for people who live other places, it's that in New York City, it can be really, notoriously hard to find a public bathroom. 

I mean, really, really, really, really, really hard.

Sure, you can try restaurant restroom roulette, but many (most?) facilities won't let non-customers use their facilities. And let's face it, the worst time to be trying to find a bathroom is when you really need to find a bathroom.

Enter Starbucks. (I mean, literally, you should enter a Starbucks.)

Beacuse during a talk recently at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz announced that the company's bathrooms are now open to everyone--all around the United States.

(Presumably, the United States still includes New York City.)

The decision comes in the wake of the controversy over the arrest of two black men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23, in a Starbucks in Philadelphia last month. The Starbucks manager apparently called police after one of the men asked to use the store's bathroom, while they were awaiting a third man. 

I really am in no position to say whether this new bathroom policy, combined with Starbucks shutting down all its U.S. stores on May 29 for racial bias training, and the company's apologies, will really change the culture.

It would be nice to think so, I guess, but we'll see. I do know however that Robinson and Nelson are basically two of my new heroes. 

Not only did they handle the indignity they faced with grace, and not only did they settle their case against the city of Philadelphia for a token amount of $1 plus a commitment to spend $200,000 to establish an entrepreneurship program in the city's public high schools--but now they may have inadvertently solved the New York City public bathroom crisis.

Here's the important part of Schultz's talk:

"In terms of the policy, we the first thing we want to make sure is that regardless of your station in life, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnic background - everyone is welcome at Starbucks. 

And in terms of the bathroom, we're going to have to make sure that - we don't want to become a public bathroom, but we're going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key, because we don't want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than. We want you to be more than."

If I have any reservations here, it's that it sounds like he might have made this announcement without actually intending to that day. Also, he does flat-out say that Starbucks doesn't want to become a public bathroom.

Still, I can't imagine how you can announce this policy and not basically wind up inviting the general public use it. So, I emailed the Starbucks media department for clarification. Here's the additional guidance that a spokesperson sent me:

"Thanks for reaching out. Here is what we have shared with our partners (employees) over the last two weeks: Policies are still under the 90-day review, but ensure all customers coming in feel welcome. If someone needs to use the restroom, please let them, but if the safety of that customer, other customers or partners is in jeopardy, use your 911 quick reference guide for guidance on any action to be taken."

I replied asking what the "911 quick reference guide" says, exactly, but I didn't hear back. And, "90-day review" sounds like the jury is out on whether it's a permanent change. Still, it sounds like as long as you're not doing anything that will make a Starbucks employee feel like somebody's "safety ... is in jeopardy," you should hopefully be okay.

Bottom line, New York (no pun intended): There are 240 Starbucks in Manhattan alone, and many more in the other boroughs. Now, according to the company's chairman, we have access to all of them.

Published on: May 12, 2018
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