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Originally published August 2, 2012 at 8:44 PM | Page modified August 3, 2012 at 2:25 PM

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Little privacy in Pike Place Market bathrooms, tourist complains

A Toronto tourist has taken issue with the height of the stall doors at Pike Place Market's bathrooms, saying they are an affront to privacy. Market officials say the doors are purposefully low to deter illicit behavior.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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You have to be pretty desperate to take a dump in that restroom. One of the worst ones... MORE
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Shahrukh Pestonji knows a good public bathroom when he sees one.

The computer technician from Toronto has traveled the world, visiting more than 100 countries, and he's done his share of seeing a man about a horse.

But he says he's never experienced anything like he did last week in Seattle.

Pestonji, 52, came to town last Saturday, taking his wife and daughter to the Space Needle, the Great Wheel and, of course, Pike Place Market. After lunch there, he excused himself to visit one of the bathrooms.

There he encountered stall doors that were shorter than his 5-foot-7-inch stature. The doors are purposefully low to discourage illegal behavior, but to Pestonji, they were an affront.

During his minutes in the stall, he estimated, some two dozen people came into the restroom. Several made eye contact over the stall door.

"You're sitting on the toilet with your pants around your ankles and people are peering over at you — that's not very pleasant," said Pestonji, calling the experience "absolutely degrading, humiliating, disgusting, whatever you want to call it."

Afterward, he emailed the Market, Mayor Mike McGinn and The Seattle Times.

The Market employee who received Pestonji's missive, Kelly Lindsay, said she understood his concern. The complaint was not the first one she's heard about the stalls, which she acknowledges are unusual, though fully compliant with the law.

"It's a safety precaution," said Lindsay, the Market's director of programs and marketing. "The door height is a deterrent to unwanted activity in the restroom stalls."

Unwanted activity?

"I think I'll let you define that," Lindsay said. The restrooms have been in place for more than 10 years, she said, and the Market has no plans to change them.

Pestonji said he does not support unwanted activity any more than the next guy. But he said there's already a way to detect sex, drug use and other such behaviors in the bathroom: the space between the floor and the stall door, where "you can see the legs of people or something."

"There has to be a balance between privacy and protecting against unwanted activity," he said.

The dispute may pale in comparison to Seattle's bathroom fiasco of 2008. That year, the city sold five self-cleaning toilets — which it had bought seven years earlier for $5 million total but had become magnets for criminal activity.

They sold on eBay for $12,549.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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