Problem: stores aren’t thrilled about letting people use their bathrooms unless they’re paying customers. Solution: Happy Toilets! That’s the name of a program under consideration by Santa Fe, N.M.’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The idea is receiving a mixed reaction from local merchants.
The Happy Toilets program would work like this; businesses volunteer to participate by putting a sticker on their window saying that the public is free to use their toilets without any requirement to buy. In return for participating, the businesses would receive a stipend from … well … somewhere (hopefully the city’s tourist agency or the city’s parks and public works departments). The stipend would be enough to cover costs like supplies and maintenance.
“It’s an absolutely horrible idea,” Craig Allen, who owns a downtown art and jewelry gallery told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Like other opponents of the plan, Allen believes there are plenty of toilets available and that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of local merchants to provide these facilities. He’s concerned that if he participated he would be unable to deny entry to anyone, including the homeless. “If I am selling art valued at $30,000 or $40,000, the last thing I want is someone who is going to chase [customers] away,” he said.
Other business owners disagree. They feel that potential customers avoid the shopping areas because of a lack of facilities and with the city’s “graying population” many believe the problem will only get worse.
Larry Keller, a nearby merchant likes the idea. “People need a restroom, especially visitors who don’t have houses a few blocks or a few miles away.” he told the New Mexican. “And we won’t have people buying things if their bladder hurts them.”
The Happy Toilet program isn’t entirely new. More than 200 cities in Germany and Switzerland participate in a Nette Toilette (“Nice Toilet”) program, where businesses receive between $30 to $100 monthly depending on their size.
Both the Santa Fe’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce and tourism directors think the idea has merit and could be, at the very least, an interim solution while a longer term solution is found for the city’s lack of toilets. A six-month test is under consideration for the spring.