Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to clarify that Buffalo Joe’s is a cash only business.

The Equity and Empowerment Commission agreed Thursday, Feb. 16, to write a memo to the city council in support of the proposed Cashless Ban Ordinance. The council is set to vote on the ordinance at its March 13 meeting.

Requiring businesses to accept cash – not just credit or debit cards – is a way to ensure those who do not have bank accounts do not lose access to stores. Credit: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels.com

“My take from an equity lens is really not the businesses – no offense to business owners – it’s the people,” said Karla Thomas, chair of the commission. “The burden on the businesses is really not that great.”

Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid proposed the ordinance to ensure that those who don’t have bank accounts, such as undocumented people, don’t lose access to food and retail stores.

In 2021, an estimated 5.9 million households in the U.S. didn’t have access to a bank account, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. survey.

“When you do the math, in Evanston that is about 5,000 people,” Reid said.

“But when you dig deeper into that and you look locally into our region, that number is a bit higher, particularly when you look at African Americans and Latinos. You’re looking at upwards of 14% unbanked and 9% unbanked, respectively. These numbers do increase based on certain demographic factors.”

Low-income people who have bank accounts benefit from using cash too, added Commissioner Hilda Morales. “Sometimes cash is easier to use, because you don’t have to worry about overdraft fees and some of those other concerns,” she said.

Thursday night’s meeting was Morales’ and Molly Malone’s first meeting as commissioners.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit food and retail establishments within city limits from banning cash transactions. Business owners who violate the ordinance would be charged up to $1,000 for the first infraction and $1,500 for each subsequent violation.

The city council first discussed prohibiting food and retail businesses from going cashless in January.

After debate about the impact a ban could have on businesses in Evanston, especially those who currently operate on a cashless basis, the council decided to have the Equity and Empowerment Commission and Economic Development Committee review the proposed ordinance.

A number of small-business owners spoke with economic development officials on Feb. 9 to oppose the proposal, sharing concerns about robberies and the time required to total receipts and take the receipts to the bank.

The committee surveyed business owners on the proposed ordinance to determine the number of local businesses currently cashless.

The Economic Development Committee will review the survey at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.

There’s a growing trend of businesses going cashless, Reid said. Some businesses in downtown Evanston and the Third Ward are cashless, he said.

“So it’s happening throughout the city, but it’s not a huge issue yet,” Reid said. “But we’re seeing a trend nationally where more and more places are moving toward being cashless.”

Amazon Go and Bonobos in Chicago and Insomnia Cookies in Evanston are among the local retailers that do not accept cash payments.

Commissioners shared a mix of responses from business owners in the area. Commissioner Jane Grover said she met one restaurateur who just renovated his restaurant to be cashless. But she said another small business owner she spoke with on Central Street loves cash because it saves money on credit-card processing fees.

The owner of Buffalo Joe’s , a cash only in Evanston business, had similar issues with card processing fees, Reid said. The owner said the fees take money out of the community, he said.

The Equity Commission’s memo also will include recommendations for the scope of the proposed ordinance. For example, the panel recommends medical services be included in the cashless ban.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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