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Paul Wellman / Curtis C. Schott

The Call of Target’s Toilets

Do You Know About The Bull’s-Eye’s Bathroom Phenomenon?


A dozen years ago, despondent at the dearth of a Target in our town, I scrawled out a joke petition to bring the all-providing Bull’s Eye to Santa Barbara and emailed it to friends. Just for cackles ’n’ snorts. Turns out the entreaty expressed a longing that was shared deeply — and widely. Friends sent it to friends, and within a few weeks it had amassed thousands of local residents’ signatures, including the mayor’s.

For years after, developers tried in vain to bring a Target to town. This year, at long last, we finally get one! Well, we get a quarter of a normal-sized Target. Locals are all asplutter over the traffic and parking snarls they’re sure the store will spawn. And those of us who make pilgrimages to our merchant mecca in neighboring counties wonder how a 32,000-square-foot retail space can hold all of the throw pillows, jaunty Panama hats, diabolically soft jammies, decorative storage solutions, pink kettlebells, Boho goblets, chunky espadrille wedges, and Soap & Glory face masks with which a modern woman likes to deliriously overstuff her red shopping cart. How, I ask you!?

Even so, there’s another important issue that’s being overlooked as we ponder our new Target, and I want to call developers’ attention to it before construction begins: the bathrooms.

I’m not talking about Target’s bold, progressive policy to allow transgender customers and employees to use whichever restroom corresponds to their gender identity. Though this decision brought protests upon the chain by those who fret about washing their hands beside someone whose genitals they can’t clearly and immediately visualize (…?), the policy is unlikely to twist many knickers here in our snowflake sanctum by the sea.

No, the issue at hand is that, for myriad shoppers, pushing a cart through Target apparently triggers the urge to defecate.

I know. Believe me, I understand. You didn’t want to think about this today. But this is a thing, you guys. If you Google it, and I highly suggest you don’t, you’ll find dozens of distinct personal online confessions of the phenomenon — including many who actually drive to Target for relief when they’re constipated. “Pooping at Target” is in the Urban Dictionary, and just never you mind how I came to research this in the first place.

“Why do you think you see all of those full, abandoned carts left haphazardly in the cosmetics aisle?” asks my friend Kelly, who has personally succumbed to the siren song of the Target toilet.

Yet no one can really explain this peculiarity. And to ensure our new store receives appropriate architectural forethought, I thought someone should … well, get to the bottom of it.

Sure, theories abound as to why wheeling through Target’s expansive, fluorescent-lit, treasure-teeming aisles may stimulate the bowels. But they’re bad theories: It’s the excitement of shopping! Wait — it’s the relaxation of shopping! It’s the scent of Target’s food-court popcorn triggering a digestive drop-off! It’s the security system’s sub-audible sound frequencies causing a rumbly in the tumbly!

I asked my doctor for physiological insight, and after urging me to write about better things, he obliged with explanations. He blamed (credited?) Starbucks for peddling coffee just inside the front doors of many Targets “since a good dose of caffeine can get things going.” (The Santa Barbara store at State and La Cumbre will have a Starbucks, though there are already two nearby). “If it’s a big store,” he added, “walking can also stimulate the colon.”

Then there’s the simple odds game: Windowless, clockless, and stocked with Goldfish crackers on every other endcap for sustenance, Target can captivate you in its wondrous web for hours. Sooner or later, the loo beckons.

But my favorite reason, a sort of science-meets-subconscious speculation, comes from my friend Sharon: “It’s the Law of Conservation of Mass,” she says. “No matter is ever created or destroyed; it’s just redistributed. So when you walk into Target, your body subconsciously knows it’s time to make room for new [stuff].”

Hear that, new-store developers? If you want us to consume with abandon, then provide ample facilities for … our equal and opposite reaction. It’s all about happy customers in the end.

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