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Starbucks bathroom policy could set unrealistic standard for small businesses

Spokane-area Starbucks locations joined others across the nation in closing Tuesday afternoon to provide racial bias training for employees.

The coffee giant announced the training following an incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks in which two black men were denied access to the store’s restroom unless they made a purchase and then arrested after refusing a store manager’s request to leave.

Local employees couldn’t discuss details of the training, but customers interviewed by The Spokesman-Review seemed supportive of the efforts.

“I’m glad they’re doing something,” Spokane County resident Dean Emanuels said. “(Racial bias) is hard to address and hard to solve. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

Sadie Reeves, a Seattle native visiting Spokane, said she’s glad the company is making efforts to address bias.

“We need to have these conversations about (racial bias) and recognizing that we have it,” she said.

The company also announced a new bathroom policy, allowing anyone to use the restrooms regardless of whether they make a purchase.

For small businesses trying to keep up with industry standards, location can impact if shops are able to accommodate those who don’t buy anything.

At Tom Sawyer Coffee in the Kendall Yards neighborhood, distance from downtown allows for more flexibility, manager Chris Pitotti said.

“We are in a kind of out-of-the-way location, so we’ve not had to approach that policy,” Pitotti said. “If someone in the neighborhood needed to use the bathroom, we wouldn’t turn them away.”

But at centrally located coffee stops, allowing walk-ins who don’t make a purchase becomes difficult.

Atticus Coffee & Gifts in downtown Spokane keeps its restrooms for paying customers out of necessity, owner Andy Dinnison said. The high traffic makes anything else infeasible.

In a perfect world, bathroom use would be a nonissue, he said. Everyone is welcome at the shop, but it would be overwhelming if he allowed anyone to use the restroom without buying something.

“I think (the effort by Starbucks) is admirable,” Dinnison said. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people that make it hard on businesses to have open bathrooms and open seating.”

At another Spokane coffee shop, one employee said the public is generally allowed to use the restroom without buying anything. But that rule is stricter during heavy traffic days or events like Hoopfest.

“(In general), we aren’t necessarily limited to just customers,” they said.


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