Popular ice cream chain Van Leeuwen, which has been cashless since 2017, was recently fined a total of over $12,000 for violations across its New York City locations. Of 152 complaints about cashless businesses reported to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection as of November 2021, 16 have been found guilty and fined including Roberta’s Pizza and Rizzoli’s bookstore.
New York City Council banned cashless operations in January 2020, just before many businesses went cashless during the pandemic to reduce contact. Activists have described cashless mandates as a discriminatory practice, impacting 25% of New Yorkers (and millions across the country) that are “unbanked” and “underbanked”. Currently, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Berkeley have banned cashless models in business establishments.
Banks have historically excluded Black and Latinx communities, resulting in many neighborhoods with a lack of banking services. Strict credit lines and overdraft fees also disproportionately impact low-income bank clients. Citing the relationship between retail and banking policies with racial inequity, critics of cashless establishments describe the exclusion of cash payments as yet another layer of discrimination.
Still, others find the recent clampdown unjust. Councilman Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn) told the New York Post: “These agencies weaponize our statutes to torment small businesses…this about raising revenue for the city.”