Jan 30, 2023 - News

Detroit council member's proposal would ban cashless retail

A sign in Plum Market says it is cashless "for a faster and more efficient checkout."

Plum Market in downtown Detroit. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

The controversy over whether to end cashless businesses has reached Detroit's lawmakers.

Why it matters: Black Detroiters are disproportionately likely to use cash and not have access to cards, making this an issue of equal access to the economy, says council member Angela Whitfield Calloway.

  • The couple cashless operations in Detroit mirror a national trend that businesses consider for reasons including COVID-19-related contamination concerns with handling cash, making transactions quicker and getting rid of cash-handling costs.

Driving the news: Calloway has a draft ordinance that would prohibit cashless establishments and hopes to introduce it in February, she tells Axios.

  • Council would then need to consider and approve it.

What happened: Calloway says she was motivated to push for the ban after going to the Plum Market in the Ally Detroit Center with just bills.

  • "I'm looking for, where do I put my cash? … I was shocked." She left without her soup and salad, thinking about how many Detroiters "do everything with cash."
  • "This is economic discrimination and stratification," her senior policy advisor, Ramses Dukes, adds. "We need to give every single citizen an opportunity to purchase goods and services."

By the numbers: A fourth of Detroiters had neither a checking nor savings account as of 2019, per a U of M report Calloway cites.

Between the lines: The new proposal would still permit a cashless policy like the one at Little Caesars Arena, where you can convert cash to a VISA card without charges at on-site portals.

The other side: When the downtown Plum Market reopened in June after a long pandemic closure, it went cashless "to focus on quicker service," especially during the lunch rush, a Plum Market spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "We will obviously comply with any ordinances passed but feel the cashless model has been well received and has made a tremendous improvement in transaction speed for our guests," the spokesperson adds.

State of play: Mootz Pizzeria was among the restaurants criticized in 2019 for cashless policies, with Mootz later switching to accept cash.

Zoom out: New York City, Massachusetts and San Francisco have banned cashless businesses, while the Seattle area is considering doing so.

What they're saying: Dwan Dandridge of financial support organization Black Leaders Detroit says it's important to educate business owners about these barriers to access.

  • Plus, uplift businesses that "always keep all Detroiters in mind, specifically Black business owners that are still struggling to have equal access to capital," he adds.
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