A little story from my life about learning to be kind and learning to treat everyone, not just customers well. After spending 25 years traveling under the worst of conditions to try to make a living, the importance of businesses with open hearts and restrooms has become evident.
I am a long term fan of convenience stores. As a young teenager, I used to walk about ¾ of a mile every night with a friend who needed to take the family dog out for a walk. By our design, the halfway point was a convenience store. We’d buy a couple candy bars and a soda and walk back towards home, stop at a local park and talk about our families and lives. It was a nightly ritual for a couple years. I’m sure it was one of the reasons we made it through those rough teenage years. I loved those walks. The trouble always came when we would get out there and discover one of us had to pee or worse. They didn’t offer a restroom to customers, so we were stuck until we could get to a place to relieve ourselves ¾ of a mile away or if necessary behind a tree in the park.
A few years later after graduating from High School I found myself employed by that same chain of convenience stores and was eventually made manager of the very store I walked to night after night. The story was the same. Our DM told us in no uncertain terms, that no customer could enter the back room, or bathroom for insurance reasons. If something happened to them, we would not be covered. If any employee violated the rule, they would be fired.
One day while awaiting my DM to turn in the weekly paperwork, I was faced with a person, not a customer with a bathroom emergency. I stated our policy and turned her away, but she didn’t go. She begged, she pleaded. I turned her away again. I felt so torn, because I knew how rough it could be, but I was under orders and was expecting the DM any minute. So I stuck to the company line and did the wrong thing by turning her away again. She was crying now and I felt like an ass. She cussed me out between the tears and turned to walk out the door as a stain appeared on her skirt and stockings. and a puddle formed on our floor. She fled.
When the DM appeared a few minutes later, with mop in hand I told him about the woman and her cursing me out and he told me I did the right thing, that he would have fired me on the spot if he found her in the bathroom.
It was then I knew something was very wrong… I knew I had done the wrong thing, I had saved my job, but that was no way to treat another human being.
I began violating the rule on a daily basis. The company I worked for knew nothing about hospitality, but I did.
I left the job eventually and went to college and by the time I left the university that convenience store chain was starting to have financial difficulties and was selling off stores to private owners, A few years ago they finally declared bankruptcy. Now only a few private stores remain.
This was in the early 1990’s and another convenience store chain was spreading across PA. It was called Sheetz.
Over the last 20 years I have become a devotee of Sheetz it only took a few months of traveling the roads of PA as an artist attending craft fairs to know Sheetz was the best place to stop. Fresh cooked food 24 hours a day, restrooms 24 hours a day. Gas, Oil and wiper fluid 24 hours a day. I was so sad anytime I traveled too far north, or too far south because the Sheetz stores would disappear to be replaced by private stores or chains that hadn’t caught up yet. The only chain that could stand toe to toe with Sheetz was WaWa which primarily based around Philadelphia and farther east into NJ.
How times have changed. Now everyone is doing it. Even grocery, department and home improvement stores have restrooms. Gas station convenience stores have large clean restrooms, many make fresh food and all of them are welcoming, but Sheetz is still my favorite. They earned my loyalty with their willingness to take care of my needs. We have a long term relationship. Because they earned my loyalty. My expense reports show Sheetz gets the majority of my money when I travel.
This is the story I think of every time I see a store or business with a hand scrawled sign informing people there are no public restrooms. It’s sad. It’s petty. We all know its inconvenient for a business owner, but everyone needs a place to pee. Its one of the most basic of human needs and we all need it at one time or another. These places will never earn my loyalty. They don’t know how to treat human beings.