Where are all the public restrooms?

Public toilets have been disappearing for years.

There are few things worse than having to hold it.

Where are all the public restrooms?

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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