Always wanting to work for himself, Brian Blass discovered the perfect item to sell. After owning a bidet for four years, he constantly found himself pitching the idea of getting one to people.
“If you go to a restaurant and like the food, you tell people, or if you have a car you like,” he said. “Generally, I think people in Brattleboro and this area in Vermont are environmentally conscious and toilet paper is not good for the environment. You know, it’s singe-use paper. A tree grows for 20 years and gets cut down to wipe our butts. It’s kind of sad for the trees, you know. They could be lumber or they could be books but instead they get covered in [expletive] and thrown in toilets. It’s depressing.”
For the unfamiliar, “the classic bidet [from the French, pronounced bih-DAY] is a miniature, bathtub-like fixture situated next to the toilet, with taps on one end. Its tub is filled with water, and the user straddles themselves over it to wash below the belt,” as The Atlantic magazine describes.
Blass, who lives in Townshend, started selling bidets online about two years ago. He had a website going and considered opening a store right before the coronavirus pandemic hit. He’s originally from Connecticut but has lived locally for many years after college so his search for a location included Brattleboro, Northampton, Mass., and his home state. He knew he didn’t need a big store and wanted to keep his costs low.
Bidets sold out in the United States during the pandemic.
“They got so popular so quickly,” Blass said. “People were freaking out about toilet paper.”
When bidets were back in supply last year, he found a vacant space at the corner of Elliot Street and Main Street in Brattleboro after a candy store closed and he revisited the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar shop.
“This space made me want to have a store because it’s a cool location,” he said.
Several different bidets are available at Blass Bidet, which had a soft opening at Gallery Walk in July and officially opened last month. A lot of other ones Blass would have to order.
Bidets sold at the store cost $49 and higher. Installations, which Blass can do but would prefer customers do themselves because of the ease of the process, cost less than $200.
Blass is at the store from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. He can do installations on Monday through Saturday.
The business comes naturally to Blass. People would come over to his house, and he would tell them bidets are way better than toilet paper.
“It’s really confusing to me that everybody doesn’t just have one or want one,” he said. “I think it’s just our culture, so it’s changing. The bidet market in the U.S. is growing.”
Many theories are out there on why the U.S. doesn’t have broader adoption of bidets, Blass said. For instance, he said Americans take a lot of showers compared to those in the rest of the world.
His first encounter with a bidet was at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan.
Blass Bidet also serves as an art gallery. Artwork will change every month or two.
The fusion of art and bidets tends to confuse people.
“I spend most of my time demystifying what’s going on here,” Blass said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here.’”
He said so far, the response to the store has been “pretty good.”
Citing research he has done, Blass said the average American uses between 5,000 and 10,000 rolls of toilet paper in their lifetime, or about 100 rolls a year. He noted a lot of water is required for toilet paper production and a lot of energy goes into cutting the trees, then manufacturing, packaging and distribution.
“Americans use the most per capita by far,” he said. “We could really do without it. If there wasn’t toilet paper, we’d have other means.”
Bidets also are more hygienic than toilet paper, Blass said, noting that water cleans better than paper.
“That’s why people prefer baby wipes or flushable wipes, but then they end up clogging up sewer systems,” he said.
Blass believes more bidet use would dramatically cut down on the use of toilet paper, saving people money and serving as a better alternative for environmental reasons. His goal is to make bidets common in both households and public establishments in Brattleboro.