Boutique toilet chain debuts Mideast 'relief' plan

The private initiative could potentially face competition from the most traditional of sources: The Tel Aviv Municipality.

April 15, 2012 22:35
4 minute read.
2theLoo facilities

2theLoo toilet bathroom 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

If you build it, will they flush? Ronit Schwartz, the 45-year-old general manager of “2theloo” in Israel thinks so.

Schwartz told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that she got the idea to bring the first branch of the “boutique pay toilet” chain to Israel after she saw a newspaper article a little over a year ago about a new chain of “2theloo” opening in Amsterdam and “I just couldn’t believe no one had thought of it before.”

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“One of the things I loved about it is that it answers a need,” Schwartz said. “People need to use the bathroom and they need a place that is suitable.”

Schwartz, who spent 21 years in bank management before entering the boutique toilet industry, said that she does not believe that the company will have trouble convincing Israelis to pay to use the bathroom, and that so far people have reacted better than she expected to the idea. She also said that her store offers washrooms of a significantly higher quality than the typical pay toilet in Israel.

Indeed, public pay toilets are not a rare sight in Israel.

At bus stations in particular, there is typically at least one rather dingy bathroom staffed by a middle-aged woman who charges NIS 1 to enter the bathroom, for which the patron receives a few squares of rough paper towels for toilet paper. Within the stalls, there is often little apparent payoff for the cover charge.

During a visit to the 2theloo branch at 9 King George Street in Tel Aviv on Sunday, it was rather easy to see a NIS 2 difference in service.

After paying NIS 3 at a turnstile, the patron receives a coupon, and is presented with seven toilet stalls and two urinals from which to choose.

The dark wood stalls were quite spotless, and above head, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” played from ceiling speakers. The stalls have a mix of design motifs: One includes a wrap-around photo of a polar bear swimming in clear blue waters; one depicts a blown-up nighttime photo of the Azrieli towers; and another is covered in a giant photo of the Tel Aviv beachfront, which allows you to “sit” at the beach, even while in a 65-square meter storefront in central Tel Aviv.

A separate stall for parents or caretakers changing infant diapers includes a giraffe motif and, perhaps incongruously, a spinning mirrored ball and colored lights. Across the walls of the entry room, toiletries, diapers, hand soaps and lotions are for sale and there is a refrigerator next to the cashier stocked with soft drinks.

The store was not flush with customers in the late afternoon on Sunday, but an employee named Vidal said that throughout the Passover holiday the store had an average stream of around 400-500 patrons per day. Moments later, a curious haredi (ultra- Orthodox) passerby stopped Vidal and asked a flurry of questions about the storefront. Vidal, for his part, asked the man whether it would be kosher to affix a mezuza in the store, considering that bathrooms are the only room in the house where mezuzot are not placed.

The man issued a quick ruling that the prayer scroll could be affixed on the wall of the store’s entry room, but not farther back in the toilet showroom.

2theloo was founded in the Netherlands in 2011 and now operates 25 branches across Europe, with branches in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Norway and Sweden. Like the Tel Aviv branch, which is near the intersection with Allenby Street and the Carmel Market, most branches in Europe are located in areas with very high foot traffic, the company says.

While Schwartz kept the seat down when asked what the chain’s plans are in Israel, a 2theloo press release last week said it plans on opening 50 chains across the country in the coming years.

The original branch cost some NIS 600,000, the company added, meaning it will have to take in some 200,000 customers (or 400 days at the Passover rate of 500 customers per day) before it breaks even on the investment, unless it manages to sell a large number of their retail toiletries on display inside.

2theloo said the store will be open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Fridays from 9 a.m. until sunset. Due to its early closing hours, the business will not serve the late-night revelers who may be most in need of a place to answer nature’s call.

The early closing hour could also cut down on potential drug use in the stalls, an issue that has been a problem in private urban pay bathrooms in many cities around the world.

The private initiative could potentially face competition from the most traditional of sources: the Tel Aviv Municipality.

In response to a press inquiry on Sunday, the municipality said that in addition to what it said are hundreds of regularly maintained public bathrooms across the city, it is also investing some NIS 30 million on renewing bathrooms and adding more public stalls all over the city, including in gardens, parks and along the beach. In addition, it plans to set up signs throughout the city showing the location of the nearest bathroom, and a map which will also be available on the city’s website.

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