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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Led by big chains like Amazon Go, Sweetgreen, and Shake Shack, U.S. retailers are fast eliminating cash sales. But cities and states across the country are fighting back.

The big picture: They're moving to outlaw cashless stores because, they say, they discriminate against millions of Americans, mostly the poor, elderly and immigrants, who don't use credit cards.

Driving the news: In recent weeks, New Jersey and Philadelphia have passed laws prohibiting cashless stores, and four more cities — Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — are contemplating doing so.

The backdrop: As we've reported, the world is racing to speed up checkout — with China far ahead. Over the last two years or so, Chinese tech giants Alibaba and JD.com have wholly eliminated checkout in hundreds of stores. American counterparts Amazon and Walmart, meanwhile, are only starting to debut such technology in a few flagship locations.

  • But unlike in China, local U.S. movements are working to keep cash alive. The trend was first reported by Tim Carmody's Amazon Chronicles.

The big picture: The U.S. still leans on cash. Around 30% of all U.S. business is still done in cash, not credit cards — some 14 million Americans have no bank account.

And the move to cashless stores — among them, Dos Toros, Bluestone Lane, and Milk Bar — has miffed officials in places like Philadelphia, where city councilman Bill Greenlee says it's fundamentally undemocratic.

"[Killing cash] creates 'us and them' places. I could walk into a coffee shop and pay with my credit card. Someone standing behind me in line with the same amount of money in their pocket, but in cash, cannot buy that product. That seems wrong."
— Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee

What's happening: The anti-cashless laws require all retailers and restaurants to accept cash — with some loopholes.

New York City is watching Philadelphia and New Jersey. There, Councilman Ritchie Torres in December proposed a similar ban, and its supporters believe it will pass within the next six months.

Sweetgreen and Amazon declined to comment. Shake Shack did not respond to an email.

What to watch: "We're not going to see the end of cash anytime soon," says Natalie Bruss of Fifth Wall Ventures.

  • Instead, Bruss sees a workaround — an open lane in which shoppers can avail of reverse ATMs that accept cash and spit out pre-paid cards. Therefore, such stores won't be cashless.
  • A startup, Zivelo, led by a former eBay executive, is already adding such lanes at fast food chains and pharmacies around the country.

Go deeper: Amazon wins a cashless ban carveout

Go deeper

35 mins ago - World

Blinken to visit Ukraine as Russia invasion threat looms

Blinken (R) with President Zelensky. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/Pool via Getty

Secretary of State Antony Tony Blinken will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday as the country faces an ongoing threat of Russian invasion.

Driving the news: Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, as well as officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv to discuss contingency planning. He'll then travel to Berlin to meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and attend a meeting of the "Transatlantic Quad" — France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S.

Updated 41 mins ago - World

At least 3 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least three people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Tuesday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. Officials in Tonga confirmed three deaths in the country's first official statement since the crisis began.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Charted: GOP surged as Biden slumped

Expand chart
Reproduced from Gallup. (Independents were asked their party leaning.) Chart: Axios Visuals

Gallup polling found a huge shift in party preference over the course of 2021, from a 9-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a 5-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.

Why it matters: It's the biggest swing in one calendar year for Gallup's 30 years of tracking.