Grab and go shopping

A shopper scans an Amazon Go app on a cellphone while entering an Amazon Go store in Seattle. Retailers are looking to say good riddance to the checkout line with new technologies. — AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File

Customers can choose from any number of greens to toss in their salads when ordering at the Sweetgreen restaurant in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood — romaine, kale, mesclun.

Just don’t expect to buy a salad with greenbacks.

The company stopped accepting cash payments at its Philadelphia stores in early 2017. A small sign hangs outside the store advising customers of the policy.

Sweetgreen is not alone. A handful of other businesses in Philadelphia have gone cashless, too, including Bluestone Lane cafe in Center City.

But that cash-free business model will have to change in Philadelphia.

City Council voted 12-4 Thursday to pass legislation that requires retail shops and restaurants to accept cash as payment.

The bill now goes to Mayor Jim Kenney for his signature or veto.

Kenney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what the mayor intends to do.

Councilman Bill Greenlee said that cash-free stores inordinately prevent lower-income people, minorities and immigrants from shopping at those stores because they traditionally have less access to credit and banking institutions.

“To me, it’s just a fairness issue. … It gives everybody the same opportunity to buy a product,” said Greenlee, a main sponsor of the bill.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the other main sponsor, said the legislation sends a message to businesses that “they are here to serve everyone.”

Councilman Allan Domb, who cast a vote against the bill, warned the ban would curb business investment; reduce jobs; drive companies over the city border, including Bluestone Lane and Sweetgreen; and shortchange the city’s sales tax because cash businesses historically under-report earnings.

“For businesses that value innovation and technology, Philadelphia may not look as attractive,” Domb said.

Domb added that the giant online retailer Amazon had contacted the city about establishing its cash-free store — known as Amazon Go — in Philadelphia, which could bring with it 100 jobs. But Amazon raised concerns about the bill.

“They [Amazon] explicitly told our Commerce Department that this bill would preclude them from coming,” Domb said.

The legislation carves out exceptions for some businesses to remain cash-free, including parking lots and garages and stores that sell goods through a membership model that requires payment through a mobile device application.

Greenlee said companies like Amazon would qualify for an exemption and could open cash-free stores. But businesses like Sweetgreen and Bluestone Lane, Greenlee said, were covered under the bill.

Requests for comment from Sweetgreen and Bluestone Lane and the were not returned.

Amazon spokesman Ben Holzer declined a request to comment.

Those who voted in favor of the bill were Greenlee, Quiñones-Sánchez, Council President Darrell Clarke, and Council members Cindy Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Bobby Henon and Mark Squilla.

Councilmembers voting against the bill were Domb, Cherelle Parker, Brian O’Neill and David Oh. Councilman Al Taubenberger was not present.

Introduced in October, the legislation amends the Philadelphia Code under the Fair Practices Ordinance. Violators could face a maximum $2,000 fine.

In an open letter posted on Medium in 2016, Sweetgreen’s co-founders — Nathaniel Ru, Nicolas Jammet and Jonathan Neman — said the move to go cashless by March 2017 was based on efficiency, adjusting to customer trends and reducing theft.

Cash management ate up on average of two hours at each Sweetgreen store, according to the online letter. In addition, cash transactions at Sweetgreen stores nationwide dropped to 10 percent in 2016.

“And while it took some adjustments to consumer behaviors, most guests have adapted to paying with card or app and understand why we’re moving this way,” according to the letter. “So it’s looking like cash maybe isn’t king after all.”

Rob Wonderling, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, bashed the ban in a statement. Local government, he said, should not dictate how private business operates.

“With more residents opting to use alternative methods for payments, companies deploying newer payment technology and with banks developing newer products to reach unbanked customers, passing such a prescriptive ordinance will inevitably hamper Philadelphia’s competitiveness when society eventually shifts more towards a cashless model,” Wonderling said.

Cash may be legal tender, but there’s no federal law mandating private businesses accept it, according to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve’s website. The federal government leaves that up to individual businesses and the states.

“Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether to accept cash unless there is a state law which says otherwise,” according to the Federal Reserve’s website.

While companies have jumped onto the cashless trend, legislators have pushed back.

Massachusetts has outlawed discrimination against cash buyers since the late 1970s and remains the only state to ban the practice.

New Jersey state legislators recently approved a law preventing businesses from going cashless; Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has yet to sign the bill. New York City officials also are considering banning the trend.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.