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No More Currency Exchanges Wanted

By Wendell Hutson | January 8, 2013 7:42am | Updated on January 9, 2013 9:25am
 Lisa Keys leaves her favorite currency exchange at 531 E. 79th St. and prefers it over a bank.
Lisa Keys leaves her favorite currency exchange at 531 E. 79th St. and prefers it over a bank.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHATHAM — If you are looking for a currency exchange you won't have to look far in one South Side community.

And that's not necessarily a good thing, say some residents.

In the Chatham area, there are 10 currency exchanges, according to Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association.

Said Marlon Cooper, 63, a retired construction worker, "We don't need 10 currency exchanges in Chatham."

"This is a working-class community, not some low-income area like Englewood," Cooper said. 

Chicago historian Timuel Black described Chatham as a black, middle-class community made up mostly of public servant and white-collar employees. There are nearly 64,000 people living in the 60619 zip code in Chatham, according to census data, and 26 percent are seniors age 55 and up.

Critics say currency exchanges charge higher fees than banks for needed financial services. The industry notes that their fee structure is government regulated.

Kelly said there are six banks with branches in Chatham. They are Chase, Urban Partnership, Bank of America, Illinois Service Federal, PNC, and Seaway Bank & Trust Co.

She would prefer to see more banks. 

"I don't have a problem with currency exchanges because they are a business providing a convenient service to a lot of people. But I do have a problem with our community having few banks available," Kelly said.

Currency exchanges attract negative people who do harm to the neighborhood, contends Valerie Huggins, 41, an office manager who lives in Chatham.

"Currency exchanges cater to a special group of people, usually the unemployed or under-employed but rarely the middle-class," claimed Huggins. "I do not use currency exchanges and think overall they are bad for the community because of the loitering that takes place."

But not all residents are against currency exchanges expanding in Chatham.

Lisa Keys said she uses currency exchanges over banks for convenience.

"I can always find a currency exchange close around here [in Chatham.] But I can't say that about a bank," Keys said as she left the currency exchange at 531 E. 79th St.

"There are some services banks cannot provide anyway. I can't buy a city sticker for my car at a bank. What about [postal] stamps? Can't get that at a bank either. Nor can I fax something from a bank. But I can do all of that at a currency exchange."

Hortense Brice, 71, a retired school teacher, said she sometimes will use a currency exchange to save a few bucks.

"A money order is $5 at most banks regardless of the amount or if you have an account there. But at a currency exchange you pay a flat fee no matter how much the amount is," explained Hortense, who uses the currency exchange at 7859 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

"I can take a check to a currency exchange and get it cashed that day if I have cashed a check there before, which makes me a member of sort. But at a bank I might have to deposit the check, wait a couple days for it to clear before I can get my money."

Officials from the Community Currency Exchange Association of Illinois, did not return calls seeking comment.