Sunday, August 05, 2001

Charmin exhibit

Changing bathroom's bottom line

        When I was growing up, the bathroom was the smallest room in the house. And we only had one.

        My brother says it's a wonder he has functioning kidneys after spending so much time dancing outside the door while I took leisurely bubble baths. This is a complete lie. Nobody in our family, including me, lounged around in the bathroom. Our bathroom had a sink, a toilet, a tub. No magazine rack. Certainly no TV.

        Bathrooms weren't accessorized, except with towels. They were utilitarian. And communal.

        Now, fancy new houses have a bathroom for every member of the family and another one for guests. Some have juice bars with refrigerators. This is in addition to Jacuzzis, big-screen televisions, treadmills and multiple sinks. At Homearama this year, the prevailing fashion was a picture window next to the tub.

        I guess that's so you can share your new buns of steel with the entire neighborhood.

        We have come to expect a lot of the loo. Except for public ones. What we expect of public restrooms is a bin overflowing with dirty paper towels. Or a wind machine to blow our hands dry. We turn on the machine with our elbow to avoid germs. Likewise, we flush the toilet with one foot, even if the handle is shoulder high.

        And the savvy visitor inspects the toilet paper supply before committing to a stall. A whole Seinfeld episode was written around Elaine's humiliating experience when she begged a woman next to her for “just a square.”

        But Procter & Gamble Co. is promising to change “the public restroom experience from the bottom up.” The company took over a public restroom at last year's Ohio State Fair. “People loved it,” said Allison Hirsch, a company spokeswoman.

        How did you know?

        “We videotaped some people,” she replied.

        Hey, wait a minute.

        “Outside the restroom,” she added hastily.

        In the garden, perhaps. Besides painting the facility inside and out, P&G installed changing tables for infants, shelving in the stalls, aromatherapy and landscaping. Last year, about 345,000 people chose the Charmin-ized facilities at the fair's Cardinal Entrance Gate.

        No wonder. Besides fresh paint, there's maid service. At least two attendants work 12 to 17 hours a day to keep things clean and the P&G products replenished. At this year's Ohio State Fair, goers are expected to use 9,300 rolls of Charmin Ultra, 36 gallons of Safeguard hand soap and 3,900 rolls of Bounty paper towels.

        The fair in Columbus, which opened Friday, is second of 15 on this summer's “Charmin Fair Tour,” a seven-figure investment for the company. San Diego was first. A reporter there called it “a transformation from starkly utilitarian facilities to astral New Age lounge.”

        I repeated this to a friend with small children. She sighed wistfully. “We have three bathrooms in our house,” she said. “And a powder room. But the kids still bang on the door every time I close it. And nobody besides me ever changes a roll of toilet paper.”

        She sighed again. “Where do they go after Columbus?”

        Iowa, then New York, Illinois and Washington.

        “Clean sinks?” she said. “Doors that close and lock? Aromatherapy? Music? Plenty of two-ply toilet paper?”


        She thinks it would be worth the drive.

       Send e-mail to Laura at or call 768-8393.


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