New York City Bill Seeks to Ban Cashless Retailers

The legislation stands against the Amazon Go model
Photograph courtesy of Amazon

NEW YORK A new bill proposed in the New York City Council might stand in the way of retailers’ frictionless ambitions.

Retailers that don’t accept cash, a small but rapidly expanding group, would be fined in the city under a bill introduced in the City Council on Nov. 28 by Ritchie Torres, a Democrat representing working-class communities in the Bronx.

For the first violation, cashless operators would have to pay $250, and then $500 for every violation thereafter. If made into law, retailers would have 120 days to comply with the ordinance after its adoption.

Torres, like an increasing number of lawmakers, believes a no-cash policy discriminates against lower-income consumers, who may not be able to afford credit cards or smartphones, now the only means of payment accepted at Amazon Go, the e-commerce giant’s cashierless convenience-store concept. Over the next few years, Amazon is set to open 3,000 new Amazon Go units.

Restaurant chains such as Sweetgreen, Starbucks, Dos Toros and Shake Shack have also opened cashless formats.

In an interview with Grub Street, a website for New York City foodies, Torres said he’s also concerned that cash users will be stigmatized the way food stamp users were when the councilman was growing up in the city. Asked how he expects retail and restaurant chains to react, Torres said, “I expect a big fight.”

The chains argue that eliminating cash speeds up service because money and change don’t have to be counted out to complete a transaction.

In July, a Washington, D.C., council member introduced a bill barring cashless restaurants. If approved, the legislation would prohibit foodservice operators from not accepting cash, posting signs that they do not accept cash and charging different prices for cash vs. other forms of payment. The item is still under council review.

Last November, Chicago’s City Council indefinitely postponed a vote on a proposal to ban cashless businesses. The city’s third Amazon Go location opened Nov. 27.

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