It’s Official: Philly Businesses Can’t Go Cashless

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It’s been a long and contentious struggle, but the matter has been decided: Philadelphia businesses are banned from going cashless. The Wall Street Journal reported late last week that the City of Brotherly Love is the first municipality in the city to ban cashless businesses. Current cashless establishments – most of which are restaurants and cafes – will have until July to implement point of sale equipment that can handle good old American greenbacks.

The argument in favor of banning cashless restaurants and shops is that such a policy discriminates against low income consumers (who are exponentially more likely to lack access to banking services which would grant them debit or credit cards) and the elderly, who as a demographic tend to favor cash over plastic because they trust it more. It also marginalizes those members of society who aren’t as tech-savvy as millennials, the driving force behind the cashless movement in the first place.

The blowback from cashless businesses like Sweetgreen and Everlane during the deliberations process was significant, since these enterprises have their own reasons that they prefer just plastic and other electronic payments. First of all, they argued that cashless was safer, as neither employees nor store cash would be jeopardized in the case of a robbery. Secondly, cashless transactions are easier and faster, enabling better customer service. Amazon had previously warned Philadelphia city officials that passing the cashless ban would impede the company from bringing a planned Amazon Go store to the city, as all the other national outlets are cashless.

Notably, the new law won’t apply to certain businesses with exceptional payment models, such as parking garages, membership-only stores like Costco, or transactions that require a security deposit, like rental cars.

“Most of the people who don’t have credit tend to be lower income, minority, immigrants. It just seemed to me, if not intentional, at least a form of discrimination,” said city council member William Greenlee, who sponsored the legislation. Now, he said, these stores have “to do what businesses have been doing since Ben Franklin was walking the streets of Philadelphia.”

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