Starbucks may be closing their restroom doors to the public, as Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz states that the company may be revising an open-door policy in place since 2018.
Per CNN, the will-they-or-won’t-they CEO of Starbucks discussed the potential new bathroom update at a New York Times DealBook conference in Washington, DC on Thursday of last week, June 9th. Schultz cited a “growing mental health problem” as the reason for the policy change, being quoted by the Times as stating that the company has to “harden our stores and provide safety for our people.”
The update would come just over four years after the company originally opened their bathrooms to the public, after a 2018 event in a Philadelphia Starbucks where two Black men were denied access to the facilities while waiting on a friend before purchasing anything. This led to a Starbucks employee calling the police and having the two men arrested for trespassing, though no charges were ever filed. At the time, then-executive-chairman Schultz closed all US stores for a day of implicit bias training.
Now it appears that the restrooms may soon again be only for paying customers. On the surface it’s a bad look for Schultz, but as frankly every cafe and coffee professional in a retail setting can attest, the issue of how to navigate providing a safe space while still treating every person with dignity and respect can be incredibly difficult. It’s easy to lash out at Starbucks and Schultz—they do often make themselves easy targets and we like to poke fun here at Sprudge—but they, like every other cafe company, large and small, are simply dealing with the downstream effects of America’s inaction (or worse) on issues of mental health and homelessness.
It has been made abundantly clear through our country’s policies, those that essentially make it illegal to exist while experiencing homelessness or mental illness, that we aren’t terribly interested in tackling the issues themselves: we just don’t want to have to see the people who are experiencing them. Our top-down apathy towards homelessness leaves the onus on businesses to set rules and deal with uncomfortable (and maybe even dangerous) situations that many workers are not equipped to handle, everyone gladly kicking the can down the food chain until it can go no further, squarely placing hourly workers on the front lines of the issue.
It’s a fucked up situation with no right answers, as least as far as cafes and retail establishments are concerned. One thing is for certain, though: as long as we criminalize homelessness and mental illness instead of treating these realities as complex social wellness issues, no bathroom policy in the world will make things any better.