Apparently This Matters: Private luxury toilets in NYC

Editor’s Note: Each week in “Apparently This Matters,” CNN’s Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media and random items of interest on the Web.

Story highlights

For a small fee, a new startup will offer visitors to NYC a clean, private bathroom

Yearly membership costs $15

Members can then purchase day passes which cost about $8

New York CNN  — 

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a true germaphobe, but if entering a domestic partnership with a bottle of Purell were legal I’d certainly consider it.

Perhaps this is that slippery slope they’ve warned us about.

But it’s true. I’m one among the insane masses who is chronically over-sanitizing himself because – whoa – it’s possible that a lone speck of someone else’s butt germs somehow drifted into my three-foot personal safety zone and is now infecting my life with disease and disgust.

"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

This, says the guy who will happily eat an unidentifiable rolling tube of meat under a heat lamp at a 7-Eleven.

“And, uh, how about three of those things.”

“Sir, they’ve been there for 16 hours.”

“I see. Better make it four.”

The point, here is that bathrooms gross me out, and people gross me out, and, though it’s all completely irrational, this mild phobia is getting to the point where, for safety, I may have to consider wearing pants in public.

Of course, the biggest concern for most germaphobes is the dreaded public bathroom. While many people in the world would be overjoyed just to have public bathrooms, here we’re socially conditioned to be a little worrisome of any place where another human being and his lunch burrito may have had their final intimate encounter.

However, in New York City that soon may not be a problem. A company called POSH Stow and Go is aiming to change all that with upscale, private bathrooms.

The idea is this: Customers pay a yearly $15 membership fee. After that, they can then purchase different packages that range from three days ($24) to six days ($42) to 10 days ($60). And this includes free use for up to three children under the age of 18.

Unfortunately, if you have four kids, it’s like a really bad remake of “Sophie’s Choice.”

“Suzy, Esther, Julius … let’s go inside and use the potty. Er, Billy, good luck out there. Breathe.”

POSH’s founder, Wayne Parks, explains why this might be perfect for tourists.

“Everyone who visits Manhattan needs a home base,” he says. “We will keep building locations as membership grows, so anyone can have a home base in every section of town they find themselves.”

Right now, the plan is to launch three flagship POSH locations this summer, situated near the South Street Seaport, Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.

So, being that I was in New York for a work trip, I decided to visit one of these areas to see just what kind of options already exist. And I started right in the heart of it all at: Grand Central.

This is the entrance to the downstairs public bathrooms at Grand Central. They're perfectly adequate, but with a slight odor of asparagus.

On the main level of the terminal, I didn’t immediately see any signs for public bathrooms. But I asked. And they do exist.

Downstairs. Lower level. Perfectly adequate.

The floors could be cleaner, and it had a slight odor of asparagus, but the loo at Grand Central is certainly passable considering thousands of people pass through each day, and some of them may have had shepherd’s pie for lunch.

I’m also told there is a super (no longer) secret women’s bathroom in the Metro North station master’s office.

The secret men’s bathroom is on Track 32.

Literally on Track 32.

I think.

Now, it’s worth mentioning, of course, that the Grand Central POSH Stow and Go location won’t be directly in the terminal. It’s going to be near the terminal. Thus, I decided to get outside and do a full lap of the property – one time around the block – vowing to stop in five different private establishments to see if I could make use of their facilities without being a customer.

Which is sort of a debatable practice.

Last year, The Consumerist ran a poll on whether restaurants should allow non-customers to use the bathroom.

About 36% said yes, but only if the individual was in obvious discomfort.

Surprisingly, only 12% said flat-out NO.

So, looking back on it, I don’t feel that bad, and, amazingly (at least at 3:30 pm on a Wednesday) there was absolutely zero trouble finding a place that would let me use the toilet.

This is the bathroom at a chain restaurant near Grand Central. In here, it's always slightly damp on the floor.

I even had a backup line to express my desperation – something about a bad street-cart gyro. It was very convincing.

But I definitely went five for five, dressed in jeans, a wool hat and a puffy winter coat.

So, nothing fancy. Nothing filthy. Just normal tourist attire. Which is to say schleppy.

And for those of you keeping score, know that I rated the bathroom at La Fonda del Sol a 9.5 out of 10 based on cleanliness, smell and lack of other people.

That last part was important.

I like privacy. And so does the founder of POSH Stow and Go.

“I unabashedly admit that I’m bathroom-shy. I don’t want to hear anyone else’s business,” Parks says.

Which is why the bathrooms at POSH will be soundproofed with music, solid core doors and sound-deadening walls. There also will be some heavy duty ventilation.

But as the name suggests, POSH Stow and Go will be more than just bathrooms. Members will also be able to stow their bags in secure lockers or just have a quiet rest in a comfortable chair.

Which is nice. But the big question is whether this business model will actually work.

It’s New York. Rent isn’t cheap.

However, Parks is confident that if he builds it, members will come.

“I have yet to talk to anyone who prefers a dirty bathroom,” he says. “It will be profitable if there are enough people like me that don’t like lugging business presentation materials, shopping bags, diaper bags, etc. around the city.”

Of course, if it doesn’t work, there’s always Track 32.

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