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Detroit councilwoman fights trend of cashless businesses with proposed ordinance

Should businesses be allowed to refuse cash customers?
Posted at 11:47 AM, Apr 19, 2023

DETROIT (WXYZ) — It is becoming more and more common. A number of businesses in Detroit are putting up notices that they no longer accept cash. If you want to buy something, pay with a card.

It happened to the crew on the Smoke Ring Food Truck as they served food in the plaza next to City Hall. One worker headed to Plum Market to buy coffee, but he had no card. Cash was not accepted.

“I am like where is the coffee,” said Chef Eric Shippy, of his response when a crew member on the Smoke Ring Food Truck returned empty handed.

Shippy says he was surprised, because he knows he would lose many customers if he had such a rule.

“Everybody should accept cash,” said Cali Cal, who tried to buy the coffee.

Cal says he had to walk a bit farther, but he eventually traded cash for coffee.

“I felt rejected. I felt violated. I felt I was being discriminated against. Simply because I wanted to purchase my salad with cash,” said Angela Whitfield-Calloway, Detroit City Councilwoman.

Detroit City Councilwoman Angela Whitfield-Calloway says she learned about the cashless trend when she tried to buy a salad at Plum Market with cash. She had to leave her lunch behind.

Plum Market is one of a number of venues making the change, including Comerica Park. Comerica Park made the change several years ago.

In response, Councilwoman Whitfield-Calloway has drafted this proposed ordinance that would make sure businesses serve cash customers. She says it is especially important in a city like Detroit, where according to a University of Michigan Poverty Solutions report, 18.3 percent of households are unbanked.

So why would a business choose to not accept cash when so many are blocked from many types of cards?

It easier to keep track. Accounting is easier,” said Dr. Anand Jha, Wayne State University Finance Department Chair.

Dr. Anand Jha says there are cost savings. Cash takes time to count, requires more cashiers, and is easier to steal. Also, it is possible businesses don’t want all possible customers.

“You kind of discourage some kind of customers from even stopping in your shop. Most people who like to use cash are teenagers, minorities, people who don’t have bank accounts, possibly poor folks,” said Dr. Jha.

“What does the homeless population do? What does our youth do? What do our seniors do?” asked Whitfield-Calloway.

Councilwoman Whitfield Calloway says her proposed ordinance sends the message, she believes economic inclusion should be the law.

“I am just hoping all the businesses in Detroit considering going cashless will reconsider their decision and allow people who want to use cash to exercise that option,” she said. 

7 Action News reached out to Plum Market for comment.  They declined to comment.