No-cash shopping policies spark protest, proposed ban
Council bill to prohibit cashless retail, unbanked parents take action on Amazon ahead of hearing
The day before City Council is scheduled to discuss a bill that would prohibit cashless retail in New York City, a group of unbanked parents and their children plan to flood an Amazon bookstore, which does not accept cash.
As businesses in gentrifying areas around the city go cashless, including throughout parts of Brooklyn, Councilmember Ritchie Torres introduced a bill in November to prohibit cashless retail and restaurant transactions. Torres argues the cash-free policy is discriminatory toward low-income New Yorkers and those without documentation.
“The purpose of the bill is to educate people about the racism of a cashless business model,” Torres said in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s deceptively benign. But what we have happening is the delegitimization of cash, and I worry about the ramifications of that.”
The legislation would impose penalties of no more than $250 on first violation and $500 for each after.
Before a Thursday hearing on the bill, Torres will join the Retail Action Project (RAP) on Wednesday alongside unbanked parents and children for a demonstration at an Amazon bookstore in Manhattan.
A child will attempt to buy a book about Martin Luther King Jr. with cash to see how the store responds, according to Chelsea Connor, a spokesperson for the project.
“We’re hoping to show that this is a real problem for real New Yorkers and that it does impact a large percentage of the population,” Connor said. “So in a bookstore, you’re keeping knowledge away from a population that can use books like this to get ahead.”
Connor said the store will likely ask the child’s parent to pay with a debit or credit card and then recommend buying an Amazon gift card from a Duane Reade nearby, based on experiences in the past.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the action and legislation.
Bank accounts with debit cards often come with fees or monthly minimums, making them more difficult for low-income residents to afford.
In Brooklyn, 12.7 percent of the population is unbanked, with the highest concentration in North and Central Brooklyn, according to RAP statistics.
There are also typically fewer banks per capita in parts of the city that predominantly house people of color, Connor said.
Businesses in Brooklyn have increasingly been going cashless, including locations of Dos Toros, a Bluestone Lane location in DUMBO and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Chains argue the cash-free policy improves service by speeding up the money exchange.
A Washington, D.C., City Council member introduced a bill in July that would prohibit cashless restaurants as well, while New Jersey recently advanced a ban on cashless food and retail businesses to go before the Senate, according to a RAP statement.
If made law, Torres’s bill would give retailers 120 days to comply.
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