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A Deeper Look – Is It Too Much To Ask?

Just Give Them Your Money And Get Out!

How can a business-owner stand in complete disregard for the welfare of his customers and yet, we STILL give him our money? If you’ve ever witnessed a farmer tending his herd, you’d recognize that the comfort and well-being of his animals takes a backseat to getting them to slaughter. That’s when and where he gets paid and that’s his main concern. So, why are we allowing ourselves to be treated like cattle?

On May 15th, at approximately 4:30 pm, I came face to face with something that I thought had moved away. After a brief conversation with some family members – as men often do – someone needed to use the restroom. Simple enough. Jokingly, upon his return, he told me that “only the white folks get the keys to the restroom!”

As shocking as that was to hear, he knew that if he didn’t let me in on the joke, I was heading to the front office to straighten that situation out! Of course, he WAS joking! But he wasn’t joking when the talk turned to a local gas station that he gets his beers from. He said that their restrooms are ALWAYS out of order!?!

Of course, the first thing that came to mind was a question of where the employees go to relieve themselves! And then my thoughts turned to the simplicity of correcting plumbing problems to properly service your customers…if that’s a concern.

So, I began to find out for myself just how true this claim was. I began by visiting the gas station that was mentioned in our discussion and was shocked to find that the bathrooms were out of order! Then I paid a visit to Moore’s Grocery store. Not only was I given the same bathroom breakdown story but, I was refused the address or phone number and told that it was “bad business” to ask for such things!? What made this behavior even more puzzling was that it seemed as if the cashier would have preferred to argue and fight over a simple question, “where’s your bathroom?” instead of just letting me know that unfortunately the bathroom was out of order. Why so aggressive? As if I didn’t even have the right to ask!

I then proceeded along the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way corridor, going from store to store…the answers were consistently the same! I then visited the Citgo gas station on 301 Blvd. and was told, once again, that the restrooms were out of order. There were 5 men behind the counter! This was my final visit before returning to my family members and letting them know my findings! We laughed, we joked, we parted ways and went on with the evening. But this was just the beginning…

Below is a listing of the locations that I visited. If I were in an emergency situation where I needed to relieve myself or change a dirty diaper, I would’ve been out of luck and that without an apology!

   

   

   

This motivated me to dig into the legality of such treatment. Seriously, how can a business, open to the public during regular and extended hours, not provide restrooms to its patrons? My online searches yielded the following results:

Topic:
RETAIL TRADE; FOOD LAW; BUILDING CODES; SERVICE STATIONS;
Location:
BUILDING CODE; GASOLINE DEALERS;

Under applicable building and plumbing codes, a service station is classified in the mercantile use group that must provide public restrooms (International Plumbing Code § 403.6, and 2003 International Building Code Portion of the 2005 State Building Code § 2902.6). The requirement applies to new buildings for which a building permit was applied for on or after May 1, 1999, when the 1997 plumbing code took effect. The codes require separate facilities for men and women in buildings in the mercantile use group if the occupant load (building capacity) is 50 or more. Most gas stations would probably fall below this threshold and would therefore need only one unisex handicapped accessible public toilet facility, according to Daniel Tierney, deputy state building inspector.

The International Code Council (ICC), which publishes the International Building Code (one of the codes stipulating the bathroom requirements) reports that 47 states and Washington D.C. have adopted the code (www.iccsafe.org/ government/adoption.html). These include the following neighboring states: Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. But states may amend or delete ICC code provisions to accommodate their specific circumstances, and we do not know which of these states, if any, have adopted, amended, or deleted the model code’s bathroom provisions.

VR:ro
In a response written on the website http://www.ehow.com, I found the following:

According to the American Restroom Association, all businesses are required by federal law to provide restrooms for employees. Some states and local governments have started adopting laws pertaining to customer access restrooms as well. The plumbing, size and occupancy requirements for these restrooms are covered state building codes.

Read more: Are Stores Required to Have Public Restrooms? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_7250040_stores-required-public-restrooms_.html#ixzz1v2USN2Kb

The first results clearly state that gas stations fall into a category that requires at least one unisex facility, and access to that shouldn’t require you to go through a stockroom or storage closet.

The second web results show that restrooms need to be made available to the employees, if nothing else. This also means that if you ask, in that situation, then the response should inform you that the restrooms are for employee use only. Since the only replies that I received were that the restrooms were out of order, I can only draw the conclusion that their restrooms ARE for public use but, the management has chosen not to invest in their maintenance and upkeep FOR the public.

So, here’s my question to you: why would you continue paying into a business that doesn’t even consider you worth the investment of providing decent restrooms should you need them? As evidenced by the recent move-in of Janie’s Garden Marketplace, the owners have made enough money to expand from their current location at Express Grocery. Yet, they didn’t deem it worthwhile enough to fix the plumbing for their customers?

I have to contrast these visits to any stop that I’ve ever made outside of the 34234 area. Go to the gas stations in the Hillview area near Sarasota Memorial Hospital…or the 7-11 on Bee Rdige Rd. Or practically any other business that’s open to the public! Yet, these businesses (which typically give nothing back to the communities that they service!) feel justified in depriving us of a basic need such as this.

Numerous health-related studies have been conducted on this topic. The findings all reflect the same or similar results: people need restroom facilities to be available outside of their homes as a matter of personal health and hygiene! Especially gas-stations that service travelers. How often have you been on a road-trip, outside pumping your gas, and someone riding with you needs to use the restroom? Happens all the time…except within the 34234 zip code!

After speaking with city employees from Code Enforcement as well as the Health Department, it’s even more obvious that something needs to be done. The challenge before them is that without being city-owned properties, it becomes the business-owners’ option to make restroom facilities available or not! Yes, it’s a matter of their CHOICE! Even the laws in place from the State of Florida offer loopholes that these owners seem to manipulate to their financial advantage.

Until these businesses respect our dollars and our rights by providing adequate facilities for our personal relief, we’ll continue being looked upon as cattle to be milked for our dollars without any regard for our well-being and comfort. Part of making things change comes from recognizing the signs that identify these businesses in the first place:

  • No one greets you when you walk in. A simple acknowledgement that you’re there and they’re glad that you’ve chosen to spend your money with them. We all have choices about where we spend our dollars and business-owners should know and demonstrably appreciate this more than anyone else.
  • You’re not offered a receipt for your purchase, regardless of the amount of money spent. Yes, this is a tax-evasion tactic. Every sale that goes through a register is recorded and reported for that businesses tax roll. That’s why it’s called a “register”, it registers the sales and taxes collected. If that merchant can make change in his head without ringing it up, the difference goes in his pocket! Milked again – ALWAYS ask for a receipt!
  • There’s rarely a “sale” on anything unless it’s near its expiration date. And if you have to shop there regularly, be mindful of these “sales”. Last week it was on the shelf for $2.50 each, this week it’s at the front register on “sale” @ 2 for $5!
  • Shelves are stocked with dented cans.
  • There’s a greater variety of alcoholic- and narcotic-related products than food items. This includes blunts, wraps, lighters, condoms, sex-enhancement pills, oils and creams. Not to mention the knock-off shirts, sneakers and work boots. When I can buy steel-toed boots for $45 that will last 6 months minimum, why would I buy a pair for $30 that I’ll be replacing every 3 months?

These merchants aren’t concerned with making long-term connections or building relationships. Their focus is in providing addictive products that will keep you coming back and spending your dollars – providing their harvest at your expense. Most of these businesses were formerly owned by people who not only owned the store but lived in the community the location served! Once that changed the profile of the business changed all together. I realize that sometimes we have no choice but to shop at these stores…they know it too! They see you as a captive audience and as such, they feel as though they’re in control and can do whatever they want or not! But they’re wrong!

These stores are here to provide a service to us. We keep them in business, we keep their pockets and bank accounts filled! According to tax records, three of these businesses under common management raked in $2 million dollars last year! And still can’t provide public restrooms?!?

I’d suggest that once a week, we all take back our power…economically. This Wednesday, and every Wednesday afterwards, buy your goods, groceries and whatevers somewhere else! Just one day out of the week. Let’s do the math:

If I stopped buying a Monster energy drink and a pack of Zingers on Wednesdays, the store would miss about $5 per week. $5 x 52 weeks= $260 per year. If 10 people did that on Wednesday, that would be $2600 per year. If 10 people stopped spending $5 there every day, that would be $18,200 per year. What if 20 or 30 people per day stopped spending just $5… Cheaper to respect your customers, if you asked me.

But some people would rather just flush that money down their toilets!

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4 comments on “A Deeper Look – Is It Too Much To Ask?

  1. Van Jazmin
    05/22/2012

    Thank you for exposing these despicable conditions of certain businesses in North Sarasota. There is a general lack of customer service efforts and facilities for the public. Let’s also focus on the businesses that are setting an example – and do not fit under this rung. Agreed and agreed.

    • Michael Paragon
      05/22/2012

      As shining an example of a city Sarasota could be, the sad reality is that these conditions DO exist and will continue unchecked only if we allow them to! What makes these businesses standout to the degree that they do is the fact that most other businesses DO provide these basic comforts and accommodations to their patrons. The fact that this is done in light of the lack of definitive laws being in place means that it is a matter of choice! We appreciate those who choose to respect and honor the needs of their patrons!

  2. Cynthia Griffin
    05/22/2012

    Wow!!

    • Michael Paragon
      05/22/2012

      As shocking as this may seem, we have to keep in mind the “modus operandi” of these business owners in general. My next call will be to the corporate offices of these gas stations that fall under those umbrellas, ie., Citgo, BP and Sunoco. Are they supporting the operating practices these franchisees promote or do we need to be courting RaceTrack, QT and RaceWay? Whomever is going to provide the best service and benefit to the community is who should be in place earning our business. To know that three of these operations were able to draw $2 million dollars out of the Newtown community is nauseating! If any of those businesses were mine, the property would be immaculate, the interiors would be bright and clean, restrooms would be clean and well kept and the community would see genuine sales and customer appreciation efforts on a regular basis! The goal of a business is NOT to just make a profit but, to make a long-term customer! The profits will come with customer loyalty. Wednesdays, eyes will be opened as cash register tills feel the impact!

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This entry was posted on 05/22/2012 by in Editorial, Local Interest and tagged , , , , , .

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