Have you been following the big Starbucks story the past few weeks? It all began when two black men were arrested on April 12 in Philadelphia. Seems one of them wanted to use the bathroom and he was denied because neither of them bought anything. An argument broke out, they were asked to leave by a worker and they refused. Finally the police were called.
A video on social media showed the two getting handcuffed and taken out of the store by police. The video went viral and all hell broke loose as people started to protest in front of the stores. Starbucks reacted swiftly; apologizing profusely, settling with the two men for an undisclosed amount of money, and announcing that they were closing all 8,000 of their U.S. stores on May 29 for racial-bias training. Wow!
But was denying the key to the restroom to this black man racially motivated or was the Starbucks employee simply following normal, established rules? We don’t know. The company has said that the policy for bathroom use up to then has been “ambiguous” and pretty much left to each store manager. It seems to me a policy that bathroom usage in a restaurant should be limited to paying customers, (of all races, of course) is fair and makes perfect sense.
In my experience, most places have always had this policy and it has nothing to do with race. Restaurant bathrooms should not be public toilets; they are a convenience to the establishment’s customers. If I’m spending five dollars for a cup of coffee do I want to drink it with Hobo Carl? I don’t think so. But now, with the new Starbucks policy, I may have to.
Starbucks has announced a new policy of inclusivity that will permit anyone to sit in its cafes or use the stores’ restrooms, regardless of whether they’ve bought anything or not. In a statement Starbucks said, “We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome. Any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer.”
Anyone can walk in, use the bathroom and sit at the tables without having to buy anything. Hmmm. That sounds like a city park or library to me. This ought to be interesting. I can’t wait to see how this new all-inclusive policy will shake out, especially in places like California where there’s been a 14 percent increase in the homeless population in the past year, with nearly 60,000 estimated homeless in Los Angeles alone. L.A.’s homeless population has increased by 75 percent in the last six years. That’s a lot of street people. A lot of people who might need to use a toilet.
But on a positive note, the new Starbucks policy is good news for the public libraries and the people who really need to use them. Remember how libraries were actually used for things like, research, school homework, and checking out books to read? You know, all the stuff that we used to do at the library until they became havens for hobos.
As a kid I remember how proud and excited I was when I first got my library card. A magical wealth of knowledge and information had opened up to me. All my life I loved to go to the public library. Then things changed. These wonderful depositories of human information and discovery turned into depositories for dirty smelly men sleeping at the tables and on the floor. And the library bathroom? Forget about it.
Now I’m hoping that once word gets out throughout the hobo community that Starbucks is the place to be, our good old libraries will again be open for people who actually want to access books and do research without having to step around hung-over bodies.
And I’m sure the change will happen. After all, why would a street person want to hang around a place with nothing but books, when they can sit comfortably at a place which offers hot coffee, food, open access to the bathroom and lovely tables either inside or on the patio where kindhearted millennials will slip them a couple of bucks and treat them to snacks?
So on behalf of all of us public library lovers across the country, I say, thank you Howard Schultz and your entire Starbucks executive team! I hope everyone who needs to use the bathroom will take you up on your generous offer. No latte? No problem. Open seating. Walk right in, sit right down, daddy let your mind roll on.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.