San Francisco to ban cashless stores to fight discrimination against low-income communities

The city is pushing back against physical stores refusing to accept paper money

Chris Riotta
New York
@chrisriotta
Tuesday 07 May 2019 15:07
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Amazon Go advert shows checkout-less supermarket

San Francisco will soon ban cashless brick-and-mortar stores across the city, requiring all retailers to accept cash as a form of payment.

Many of the city’s board of supervisors have co-sponsored a bill, citing the apparent discriminatory impact cashless stores have on low-income people and poor communities.

Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the legislation, said the city’s homeless population would face obstacles if cashless payments were to become the standard in San Francisco.

“I just felt it wasn't fair that if someone wanted to buy a sandwich in a store, and they had cash, that they would be turned away,“ she told the Associated Press. ”We also have our homeless population. They're not banked.“

San Francisco joins a growing list of cities across the country forcing stores to accept paper money, as tech giants experiment with new brick-and-mortar stores like Amazon Go, where customers automatically pay virtually with a credit card.

Similar bills have been introduced in New York City, while New Jersey and Philadelphia have also passed legislation requiring stores to accept cash.

Temporary pop-up stores and internet-only businesses such as ride-hailing companies would be exempt, as would food trucks, some of which say they lack the resources to handle cash.

Some retailers argue that not taking cash is safer and more efficient. Cashless restaurants are clustered in San Francisco's Financial District and South of Market neighbourhoods, where white-collar employees devour upscale salads and protein bowls.

Those now refusing paper money include Bluestone Lane, a New York-based coffee chain, and The Organic Coup, which sells organic fast-food chicken. At Freshroll Vietnamese Rolls & Bowls, which has several lunch spots downtown, signs remind customers of its no-cash policy.

Andy Stone, vice president of brand marketing at Bluestone Lane, said the company “will always comply with the laws of jurisdictions where we operate” and is awaiting the vote.

Some businesses appear to be getting on board as the backlash grows.

Salad chain Sweetgreen announced last month that it will accept cash at all its restaurants by year's end, saying going cashless “had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash.”

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The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce did not take a position on the proposal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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