Friday, June 02, 2006

No Peeing Here!

Recently I visited the new Windsor Atlantic Superstore for groceries. I had my wife and my mother-in-law in tow and we were at the end of a long trip. We'd decided to pick up a few groceries before going home to Mount Uniacke. It was on our way and we could avoid a trip into Lower Sackville. Convenient. The store had most of the things we wanted to buy and we had just about completed our list, when both my wife and my mother-in-law decided they'd go pee. The location of the bathroom wasn't hard to guess as this store is a cookie-cutter model with the same layout as the new one in Digby. The bathroom is in the far left as you enter.

My wife pushed her mom's wheelchair down to the bathroom. Human physiology being what it is, once the organism decides it is going to pee, that thought moves front and centre and all else in the way of worldly ambition disappears until the peeing is done. The nearer the organism gets to the pee place, the more urgent the need. So, wifey and her mom arrive at the pee place only to find a woman with two small kids, and all three of them are doing the pee dance. Wifey asks the lady if she has been there long and the lady says, somewhat desperately, "forever". There is but one door and one toilet and that door is locked. The facility is busy, occupado - unavailable. The kids are on the verge of tears, the woman is desperate herself, wifey really, really has to go and the mother-in-law is doing a version of the pee-dance while sitting in her wheelchair. Like many older folks, she has bladder control problems. My wife flees the store, jumps in the van and takes her mom down the hill to McDonald's to pee.

I wait of course. Much later my wife returns. My wife is a warm, friendly, open-hearted and forgiving woman, which is fortunate for me, but she returned without her mom and she was distinctly cool. In my considered, expert opinion, she was quietly furious. Mom-in-law didn't quite make it to the pee place. Mortified and now changed into clean clothes, she waited in the van with only tatters and shreds of dignity left. As we leave Windsor Superstore, my wife informs me that we will never; and in her absence, I will never, set foot in that store again. So much for Windsor, Nova Scotia, Birthplace of Hockey and the last bastion against public urination.

Well, except that the Digby Superstore is the same. One toilet. Maybe two or three hundred customers and staff and one toilet.



I'm not sure what it costs to plunk down one of these Atlantic Superstores and pave a parking lot for it, but let's guess eight to ten million dollars. The total cost of the toilet and lavatory couldn't have exceeded say, two thousand dollars. It can't possibly be the money - can it? Is it the male stupidity of the architect who designed these Superstore boxes?

Supermarkets are very carefully designed. They follow the four corners principle. Most of the staples are located in the four corners of the store, which causes shoppers to circumnavigate the store to find everything, and temptations to enter the center, high-priced areas are carefully spotted to lead somnambulent shoppers astray. Look at how the shelves are stocked. The stuff you want to buy is either on the very bottom shelf, or on top. The stuff they really want to sell is at eye level. Don't believe me? Then get down on your knees and retrieve that can of tomato or mushroom soup from the bottom shelf. Yes, that's right - they are the top sellers. The folks who design these stores are cold-eyed, practical and experts in human motivations and reaction to stimuli.

Is there something about the need to pee then, that stimulates shoppers to spend more, or to spend more carelessly? I dunno, but I don't think so. I think they are just arseholes with no consideration for their customers. Consider who spends a lot of time in grocery stores: young mothers, kids and the retired crowd. All of these folks need to pee - a lot; and when they have to go, dammit, they have to go.

I've looked at the Nova Scotia Building Code and it's pretty clear about handicapped accessibility, but it isn't very clear about the number of toilets that must be in place per square foot of retail space. I'll be asking Loblaws, the parent company of Atlantic Superstores about their thoughts and I will definitely be bouncing up and down on my provincial member of parliament about it. I'll also be asking those rocket scientists at Dalhousie Faculty of Architecture (Note that Dalhousie arbitrarily changes their URLs like they change their pants, so I can't guarantee the currency of this link.) I'll be asking questions of Atlantic Superstore Customer Service as well. There is a good article about public toilets in The Coast 10 November 2005 .

Why do I have this bee in my bonnet? I like my mother-in-law. I respect her and the job she did in raising a bunch of pretty good people. I bitterly resent the look on her face as she sat in my van outside Atlantic Superstore in a mis-matched pair of pants. She deserves better than that.


At 7:07 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I shop exclusively at that Superstore for my groceries and so I know it well and have had many of those occasions where my bladder is giving in to the laws of gravity.....Lucky for me I found the nearest employee who directed me to the upstairs bathroom which services the banquet room as well as staff. Now, I know what you're saying,,,upstairs, however there is a convenient elevator to accomodate anyone. The elevator is located next to stairs to the upstair(just past the cashiers. Probably the same in all of them...Happy Shopping

At 11:55 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too shop at this Superstore and have been in need of a washroom in a hurry, having a 14 month old that just doesn't like waiting for anything. While I realize there is a washroom downstairs I opt to go to the upstairs one because I feel that the downstairs one should be for people that have disability issues or such and would be inconvenienced by having to go upstairs. Unfortunately not everyone is thoughtful enough and then incidents like this happen. Sorry to hear about the problems you had in Windsor.


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