With the All You Can Drink Milk booth serving 26,000 gallons over the 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair and more than 4 million mini-donuts coming out of the fryers, there’s something else most visitors need: toilet paper. More than 3,000 miles of it — the distance between New York and San Francisco — to be exact.
Of course, they also need a good place to use it. The fair has that covered, too, with 954 toilets and 194 urinals spread out among 13 free-standing restrooms and inside fair buildings like the Horse Barn and the grandstand.
Cory Franzmeier, the fair’s sanitation manager, is at the center of them all. With razor-sharp attention to detail and a bit of bashful bathroom humor, Franzmeier oversees the 24/7 operation of keeping restrooms functioning and fresh-scented.
Franzmeier believes the fair’s success is reflected in the glimmering surface of toilet water. His mantra: “You’re only as good as your bathrooms.”
If you’re wondering if it ever gets kind of gross while overseeing “bodily situations,” it does. But Franzmeier is used to it.
“They’re bathrooms,” he said. “It might be weird to some people but it’s normal to us.”
This year, the fair has debuted a new bathroom building on the Kidway with 49 toilets, 14 of which are in private family stalls. The old Kidway bathroom, built in the 1940s, had changing tables on the outside of the building, which was next to a ride. Now, babies’ bums get some privacy, as do any visitors who want a moment of alone-time while they do their business.
The high-ceilinged and highly ventilated new bathroom is a must-visit for the fair’s potty aficionados. And there are such people. Franzmeier said lots of visitors have a favorite stall, just as many people have other fair rituals, like eating a certain food or enjoying the people-watching from one specific bench.
“I think people just like staking their claim of their little bit of ownership of the fair,” he said.
Franzmeier’s favorite bathroom, however, is the one in his office — which, he added, he cleans himself.
But let’s face it: Even for the most-enthused fairgoer, there are only so many award-winning pies you can admire, stick-borne foods you can sample and restrooms you can check out. So we staked out the fair’s bathrooms on opening day. Here are our insider tips on the best way to biffy at the Minnesota State Fair.
Fastest potty experience
Block 24, as it is known, is a hulking building obscured by Ford advertisements and the latest in mini-monster trucks. Its unassuming presence for its size makes it the quickest in-and-out experience we found on the fairgrounds. (It’s also Franzmeier’s pick for “the biggest and the baddest” bathroom on site.) Vacant stalls among the 56 available in the women’s room were abundant on opening day. (Randall Av. between Underwood and Cooper Sts.)
Besides having some of the coolest interactive displays at the fair, the Eco Experience/Progress Center also has a colorfully decorated little bathroom area that’s as pleasant as it is out of the way. It’s tiny, as far as fair bathrooms go, but murals depicting Minnesota’s water systems are a sunny distraction while you wait in short lines. This is where Tim “Giggles” Weiss, owner of nearby Giggles Campfire Grill, sends customers he especially likes. Everyone else, he points to the big bathroom buildings. (Cooper St. & Randall Av.)
Where the party’s at
Steer clear of the bathroom neighboring the Commissary. Although it’s only been around since 2013, it has quickly gotten a reputation for the busiest and the dirtiest, “because that’s where the nightlife is,” said Franzmeier. Indeed, on opening day, it had long lines snaking out onto the not-very-fresh-smelling plaza next to Cafe Caribe, and inside, the trash cans overflowed with paper towels. (Carnes Av. & Clough St.)
That’s a nice way of saying this bathroom is the oldest. Built sometime in the mid- to late-1930s, this restroom near the Transit Hub gate is showing its age. Holes in the walls where pipes exit, unidentified wet spots on the floors and burned out bulbs are just some of its vintage features. Its last renovation must have been in the ’80s based on its vanity-style lighting above a triad of sinks and mirrors that would fit in Liza Minnelli’s dressing room, if that dressing room hadn’t been dusted in three decades. Still, it’s in a convenient (read: busy) location behind the deep-fried pickle stand. Hot tip: Enter through the back alley, next to the police station, to skip the inevitably long lines. (Liggett St. & Dan Patch Av.)
The new Kidway restroom, of course, is the place to go if you are obsessed with new things at the fair. And especially if you ate all the new things at the fair. This is the one with 14 private stalls, and, apparently few people who realize they are there. On opening day, there were long lines on both sides of the building for the traditional restrooms, while private rooms remained vacant. Here you’ll also find two water fountains with automated water bottle refill stations, with water that’s a shade colder than the usual lukewarm! (Cooper St. & Dan Patch Av.)
Sprouting out of the asphalt desert of the Transit Hub, blue and beige clusters of Jimmy’s Johnnys porta potties are an oasis of tinkling stations for anyone braving the long bus lines after a few too many lemonades. They are as clean as you’d expect of a porta potty, and they get Brownie points for handicap-accessible stalls and hand sanitizer dispensers. After all the germs you’ve probably collected, you’ll need them.