CITY HALL — Are we moving toward what's been called a "cashless society?" Not if a prominent alderman can help it.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) submitted an ordinance at last week's City Council meeting to ban businesses from banning cash. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) immediately signed on as a co-sponsor.
The ordinance cites Argo Tea, SweetGreen, Epic Burger and Goddess and the Baker as Chicago businesses that have already gone cashless.
Xuan Tea, a shop at 1816 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Bucktown, opened in September and is credit card-only.
"It's been working out fine. Some are taken aback initially, but we haven't had any problems with it," manager Will Quanstrom said. "Mostly everyone has a credit card in their pocket, even if they're just out for a jog. It's easier and it's simpler for us. We don't have to go to the bank, or count drawers out." The tea shop has a sign at the front counter that says it only takes credit cards.
Legenza's On Tour Brewing Company, a West Town craft brewery and tasting room at 1725 W. Hubbard St., also opened this year with a cashless policy.
The ordinance, however, points out that credit card companies typically tack on a 1 percent to 3 percent fee on transactions, "a business cost typically passed on to consumers via increased pricing."
According to the ordinance, "credit card giant Visa announced it is 'launching a major effort to encourage businesses to go cashless," through a campaign called the Visa Cashless Challenge offering $500,000 for 50 businesses to go cash-free.
Burke called his ordinance a "fair and equal access" issue.
"A 'no cash' sign is a 'not welcome' sign for many without ready access to credit, including those who are low- or fixed-income, homeless, undocumented, young or victims of identity theft," he said.
It adds that those under 18 can't apply for credit cards, making a cash ban "de facto age discrimination," while many low-income families can't even afford to open a bank account.
The ordinance would make it illegal to decline cash as payment at any business in retail sales or food and drink, under the penalty of fines starting at $1,000 and up to $2,500 a day.
The measure was assigned to the Committee on License and Consumer Protection.