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Businesses transition to cashless methods during COVID-19

Even before COVID-19, however, some communities have fought back against this cashless trend.

ST PAUL, Minn. — You’ve probably seen a NO CASH sign somewhere in the Twin Cities over the past few months.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, some liquor stores, restaurants, local eateries and even national chains have transitioned to cashless methods, hoping to reduce contact between employees and customers as much as possible. Noodles and Company, for example, accepts only credit, debit or gift card payment at all U.S. locations, including those in Minnesota. Even Whole Foods has created specific no-cash checkout lines, to provide that option for customers at their stores.

Other establishments are simply discouraging cash – and heavily sanitizing after each transaction involving a dollar or coin.

“My policy is, if you get a cash transaction, go ahead and accept it – [but] I ask that the customer set the money on the counter so there’s no hand-to-hand contact,” said Dennis Kloek, the co-owner of Nokomis Beach Coffee in Minneapolis, where employees wash their hands after every cash payment and have drastically limited interaction with customers. “I think we have set up a system in place that a customer shouldn’t have to touch anything when they come in.”

At his shop, Kloek said cash payments have dropped from roughly 35 percent of daily sales to less than five percent during COVID-19.

The virus may be pushing companies toward a cashless future, said Michael Reed, who leads the payments division at Shoreview-based Deluxe. His company has helped businesses transition to digital and online systems as they adapt to COVID-19.

“It definitely is accelerating the trends,” Reed said. “A lot of people don’t like to hand the money back and forth, don’t like to hand credit cards back and forth. So, finding ways to transact in a frictionless way that doesn’t require those interactions - they are definitely on the rise.”

Even before COVID-19, however, some communities have fought back against this cashless trend.

There’s no law in Minnesota banning the practice, but a few states have rules on the books requiring cash to be accepted everywhere. Most recently, several large cities have pushed toward a cashless ban, including New York City, which approved a measure this winter.

Advocates argue that refusing to accept cash acts as a form of discrimination against low-income residents, the elderly, and - disproportionately - people of color. Those groups may not have the same access to bank accounts or credit cards – and there’s also the debate over privacy and whether someone should have to hand over personal information to companies instead of just paying cash.

At Nokomis Beach Coffee, Dennis Kloek continued accepting cash because he knew not everybody had a credit card or bank account.

He also couldn’t afford to lose customers who could only pay via dollars or coins.

“If you have 10 cash sales in a day… to have a zero tolerance, 10 sales, that adds up,” Kloek said. “And all of them are just going toward the bottom line right now.”

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.

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