(Verity Snaps Photography/Shutterstock.com)

About a dozen owners of small stores and restaurants told Evanston city officials that an ordinance forcing them to take cash in their businesses would not only be extremely expensive, but would also make their employees and customers less safe.

The measure, proposed by Ald. Devon Reid (8th), was the topic of a Zoom session with merchants and the city’s economic development team on Thursday.

Reid said the ordinance is needed because there are several thousand “unbanked” people in Evanston, who, for a variety of reasons, do not have bank accounts, debit cards, or credit cards.

The alder said the unbanked are disproportionately minorities, and said his must-take-cash plan is a way of “keeping American currency as something folks can use in our city.”

However, the business owners said it should be up to small merchants whether to accept cash, or require debit/credit card payment only.

Julie Matthei, of Hewn Bakery, said her business stopped taking cash during the height of the COVID pandemic, as a health and safety measure, and has kept that policy because it is safer and more efficient.

If taking cash was mandated, Matthei said it would cost $20,000 in labor costs for employees to count the money daily and take it to the bank, far more than the tiny amount of cash she would actually take in from customers.

“Small businesses,” she noted, “are getting a lot of governmental overreach.”

Gabi Walker-Aguilar, of 4 Suns Fresh Juice said having cash on hand can make a business the target of criminals.

“We don’t have cash,” she said.

“You can’t rob us.”

Walker-Aguilar, whose business was just hit with a devastating accidental fire, said she hopes to re-open by the summer.

She also noted that while open, if a customer did not have a form of cashless payment, she would either give the person a free glass of juice, or ask them to pay some other time if they do end up with plastic.

Other restaurant owners said they provide food to various food banks and social service organizations, and are trying to help those struggling to get by.

Ald. Reid questioned the various business owners about credit card fees, wondering if such charges could actually be higher than the expenses associated with handling cash.

Heather Bublick, of Soul & Smoke restaurant, said she accepts cash because “it is about equity.” Not all people have cards.

But she also said the cost of dealing with cash far outweighs the 3% credit card processing charge. Because cash is such a small part of her business, but it still has to be separated, counted, and taken to the bank, Bublick said the cost of accounting and labor takes up 50% of the cash revenue.

Several compromises were considered.

One possibility is a “reverse ATM,” where those without bank accounts could put in cash, and receive a card loaded with whatever value is placed in the machine.

A problem with that, however, is that some small businesses don’t want such devices, because it’s still just another way to have a robbery magnet in their stores.

There were suggestions to have the machines in banks, which already have security.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, said he plans to talk with local bank officials, to see if solutions like that are possible, as well as trying to find ways to reach out to the unbanked and see if they would sign up for accounts.

The city is also surveying businesses on the cash/no cash issue, so those not involved in the Zoom call can still have input.

One major idea the small business owners are pushing is that only larger, “essential” businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies would have to take cash.

The small business owners said that large chain stores are more able to deal with the cost of handling cash, and also are more likely to have in-house security guards.

Ald. Reid said there was no evidence that requring businesses to take cash leads to an increase in theft and robberies.

However, Mark Quiamzon, co-owner of Cinnaholic bakery downtown, said before he went cashless, his cash drawer was stolen “by a group of people who just walked in.”

Quiamzon said he is willing to sacrifice the small amount of potential cash income in return for not having cash in the business at all.

“We have chosen to be a cashless establishment,” he said, “even if it means less revenue for us, because I have to look at the safety of my staff.”

Zalmezak, the city’s economic development point person, said he plans to talk with police and store owners about business district patrols.

“We’re on it,” he said.

The mandatory cash ordinance will be before the Equity & Empowerment Commission on Feb. 16, and the Economic Development Committee on Feb. 22, before making it to City Council for a final decision, likely next month.

Changes to the current proposal are possible.

As Zalmezak noted, the question is “how do we accommodate this ordinance to an ever-digitizing world that seems to be changing overnight.”

As currently written, the ordinance calls for up to a $1,000 fine for the first violation, and up to $1,500 for subsequent violations.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. “Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, said he plans to talk with local bank officials, to see if solutions like that are possible, as well as trying to find ways to reach out to the unbanked and see if they would sign up for accounts…”

    Why should businesses be strong – armed to cater to those very, very few “unbanked” who are too apathetic to get a bank account? Any adult who is too unmotivated to rustle up a hundred bucks to get a basic savings/checking account (and the accompanying bank card) needs a *babysitter*, not “outreach”…

    And “local bank officials” shouldn’t be pestered for “solutions” – they are business people, *not* social workers…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  2. Once again Alderman Reid is waisting precious time of the council, city staff, and businesspeople on – let’s say it

    Completely unpractical and grandstanding proposals

    It way past time for the mayor to put an end to this or resign and let somebody come in to do the job

  3. people should keep ordering food and refuse to pay with anything other than cash. hopefully all the food they have to throw away takes a huge chunk out of their business.

  4. Who are these “unbanked” people? Are they “unbanked” because they are afraid of banks due to what happened during the great depression perhaps? If so why should small businesses be forced to cater to “their” decision to use cash? Are they perhaps a minority of people who have so little money they can’t bother to bank? Small businesses tend to offer a much better quality of service and product than larger chain businesses but along with that comes a higher price so is this really where the impoverished should be conducting their business? Maybe we need to better understand who exactly these “unbanked” people are and why they need to be catered to.

    1. Devon Reid- when will you speak up for those of us who wish to use the only TRUE form of legal tender- Gold?

      Clearly an ordinance is required to force local businesses to accept Gold as payment for goods and services rendered! Requiring businesses to purchase sensitive scales and chemicals to determine purity is not an unreasonable ask IMO.

  5. It’s a well meaning proposal that doesn’t do anything to fix the underlying equity issues take keep people unbanked. What are ways the city can either get the unbanked to a banked state or get the unbanked access to things like pre-paid debit cards?

    I’m curious what the overlap is between the unbanked, those who can afford places like Hewn, and those engaged with legal cash only income streams?

    1. This whole nonsensical thing is a “manufactured crisis”, e.g. a “non – issue”…

      Anyone with a hundred dollars can open a low – cost savings or even checking account that will provide a debit card for payment… in a former job I assisted many low – income folks – some even homeless – to do this…

      One needs proper ID, of course, which some lack… for a basic savings account there is no credit check. For checking the bank will do a check with ChexSystems for any “negative” checking account activity; this will not ordinarily prevent one from opening a basic saving account:


      A few are afraid of being “banked” because out of fear that their wages will be garnished for past debts, alimony, etc… and a few have no desire to have their financial doings “tracked” by a bank for “whatever reason”…

      There are also – surprisingly! – still those who prefer to use a currency exchange as their “bank”…

      Lastly, anyone can buy a Visa/Mastercard for cash and use it for payment…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

    2. I mean, it’s pretty easy to get access to a prepaid debit card. You just walk into Walgreens or CVS and you buy one. Am I missing something here?

  6. How about requiring banks to lift their minimum fees so that potential customers won’t be scared off from opening accounts? I don’t know about personal checking, but for a business checking account at Chase, you have to have $2,000 minimum in your account or you get charged $15/month. It’s made it really hard for me to do business in more cash-strapped times. Go after the banks, not the small businesses. We should not be required to take cash for security reasons.

  7. I agree that this effort is well intended, but sadly, not entirely well thought out. While I applaud CM Reid’s impulses on the idea of protecting the un-banked, he is once again tossing out thoughts that he cannot back up with evidence:
    >>Ald. Reid questioned the various business owners about credit card fees, wondering if such charges could actually be higher than the expenses associated with handling cash.
    >>Ald. Reid said there was no evidence that requiring businesses to take cash leads to an increase in theft and robberies.
    In both thoughts above, small business owners gave specific evidence on their own experiences, such as in the case of the high cost dealing in cash and in the case of being robbed while having cash in the register. “Matt” also questioned the idea that the un-banked would go to a place like Hewn for bread, as it is more expensive than Valle or Jewel.
    Certainly, there is a middle ground where large stores, gas stations and chain convenience stores that provide necessary items might be required to deal in cash (and they all do, I believe) versus small stores and restaurants.
    Just my 2 cents, before I must pay 15 cents for each bag I use in any store in Evanston, for which I pay $2 an hour to park before I even enter the store, which is located near 4 empty store fronts on Sherman Avenue. However, I am very grateful the council has voted to spend almost $50K on building a website to promote the few remaining legacy businesses in town. I will be sure to check that website so that as a nearly lifelong Evanstonian, I can remember those legacy businesses still exist. Thankfully, I have been helping to keep those businesses afloat against the many things stacked up against their survival for the past 50 years; the bag tax may lead to the death of them all.

    1. I certainly agree with your last paragraph, Mimi.
      But Reid’s concern about the unbanked is well-founded.
      According to a 2022 Illinois banking study …

      Currently, there are an estimated 355,000 unbanked households in Illinois, which represents 6.9% of the state’s total households. Unbanked households in Illinois are higher than both United States (5.4%) and Midwest (5%) households. Of the 355,000 unbanked households in Illinois, 50% are Black households, 26% are White households, and 22% are Hispanic households. Over 54% of unbanked households in Illinois have less than $15,000 of annual household income.

      The data suggests that more than 5000 of our Evanston neighbors are unbanked.

      A simple solution would mandate that every Evanston brick-and-motor retailer with more than 2,000 (??) sq. ft. of retail space must accept cash. That would ensure access to essential goods at stores such as Target, Valli, Binny’s, Jewel, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens, etc.

      Smaller bodega-type stores are indeed targets if they accept cash. And, it is undoubtedly true that handling cash money imposes higher costs on smaller businesses.

  8. My god, forcing businesses to take cash will not help the unbanked. Does the city have a count on how many businesses actually do not accept cash? Grocery store, pharmacy, essentials like that all take cash. If a business like Dollop doesn’t take cash then I will go someplace that does. Honestly how many people commenting have a small business? How many of us commenters currently work in a retail type business yet we all seem to have opinions about how small businesses should operate. Evanston is a complete waste of time. Skokie is actually investing in their businesses as is the dreaded Wilmette. I just ate in downtown Wilmette and I couldn’t believe how crowded it was. I saw 3 of my Evanston neighbors there. So go ahead Evanston, target the small businesses and continue to watch the city decline. There really is not a reason to shop downtown. Except when I can go smoke up inside the new cannabis cafe.

  9. Saving 20K in labor on cash but not giving a discount on plastic is like making your cake and eating it too. This is the bone that we should be chewing, where’s my discount for using plastic at your store

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