There are few things worse than having to hold it.

Unfortunately, your chance of finding a public restroom in many American cities has been falling for years, and recent news suggests it could get worse.

Starbucks, which opened its restrooms to non-paying visitors in 2018, may be reverting its policy, per Bloomberg.


… isn’t the first private establishment to be known for its lavatory. The US has a long legacy of businesses using restrooms as a selling point, including:

  • Saloons, which were one of the most reliable places for men to relieve themselves in the 19th century, as long as they bought a pint.
  • Department stores, which made clean restrooms for women a selling point in the late 19th century after realizing there were few facilities dedicated to women.
  • Gas stations, which became a popular restroom destination with the advent of the automobile.

But it raises the question — why do we rely on private businesses for restrooms in the first place?

It’s complicated

Public restrooms experienced a boom in the early 20th century due in part to Prohibition, as some feared that shutting down saloons would result in a toilet shortage.

But several factors slowed momentum:

  • High costs: Early 20th-century public restrooms (or “comfort stations”) were built with high ceilings and ornate tiles to give the image of high sanitation standards, but also made for expensive upkeep.
  • Suburban flight: As Americans left cities for the ‘burbs after World War II, the focus shifted to highway rest stops.
  • Safety concerns: In the 1960s and ‘70s, public restrooms became known for violence and drug use, leading many cities to shut off access.

So, what now?

Starbucks is still a viable option, you may just have to purchase something. If you’re against spending to pee…

  • The Portland Loo, based in Oregon, is an affordable, single-user public toilet designed to deter crime. It’s also been installed in Denver, Cincinnati, and San Antonio.

BTW: For the New York City folk, this TikTok account reviews free bathrooms in the Big Apple so you know where to go, when you gotta go.


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