“There’s a lot of restaurants and other businesses that want to go cashless,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. He said he sees an upside to going cashless.
“Because places that handle cash are less safe than those that don’t have cash on hand. Everything is reported directly into the accounting system, taxes are paid. Whereas in a cash society, taxes aren’t always paid,” Longstreet added. “And consumers are getting used to it too. And they’re asking for it.”
Cash is not accepted at Bluestone Lane Coffee and the salad chain Sweetgreen, which together have six stores in Philadelphia. Nationwide, Dos Toros, Dig Inn, and Tender Greens now refuse paper money. Reportedly Milk Bar, Starbucks, Amazon, Walmart and Shake Shack have recently experimented with cashless stores.
That trend worries Philadelphia councilman Bill Greenlee.
“I go in to get a cup of coffee, I can get it because I have a credit card, but the person behind me that doesn’t have a credit card, is told they can’t get a cup of coffee. Something doesn’t seem right about that,” Greenlee said.
According to the federal government, more than 14 million Americans don’t have bank accounts, which makes getting credit cards very difficult.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 34 percent of blacks, 17 percent of Hispanics, and 29 percent of people earning less than $30,000 dollars rely on cash for all or almost all of their purchases.
“If it’s not discrimination, it’s elitism,” Greenlee said. “I think government does have a place to protect people from not being treated fairly.”
Greenlee introduced a bill that will hit Philadelphia businesses that don’t accept cash with fines up to $2,000. Similar laws have also been proposed in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. A statewide ban on cashless stores is awaiting the governor’s signature in New Jersey. Massachusetts has required retailers to accept cash since 1978.
“I might describe it as a solution looking for a problem,” Longstreet said.
“Do you see the reasoning behind the thought that cashless can also be discriminatory?” Begnaud asked.
“I understand how this has come about, because it would disenfranchise a certain portion of the population,” Longstreet said. “We should look at a compromise that allows businesses that are cashless by design, in the way they do business, to continue to operate.”
Another thing that makes cashless appealing – these lines can move faster if employees don’t have to stop to count change. The law Greenlee has proposed applies only to brick and mortar stores, not internet retailers or membership stores like Costco. If passed, the law will go into effect in July.