If you want to get a coffee at Bluestone Lane, across the street from City Hall, you’ll have to bring a credit card. Along with a handful of other restaurants in town, most of them based in Center City, this high-end coffee chain does not accept cash.
But Councilman William Greenlee thinks that very idea is classist. Today he introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice in Philadelphia, specifically citing Bluestone Lane and the fast-salad chain Sweetgreen as examples of cashless offenders.
“To me, it borders on discrimination,” said Greenlee. “It [hurts] the lower income person who might not have a credit card, or the immigrant, or the young person who hasn't gotten a credit card yet. Right now, they can’t go get a sandwich at [Sweetgreen] and I can? Something seems wrong with that.”
Greenlee isn’t the only one who feels that way. Similar bills to ban restaurants and retail from going cashless have been introduced in Chicago and Washington D.C. in recent months. Back in the 1970s, the state of Massachusetts passed a law, just as credit cards were becoming common, declaring that no business “shall discriminate against a cash buyer by requiring the use of credit.”
The practice of going cashless is relatively uncommon in Philadelphia, but its a trend that’s gaining momentum and if the restaurant scenes in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and D.C., are any indication, Philly can expect to see more credit-only establishments in the near future.
“I’m under the impression this [practice] is going to grow if we don’t stop it,” said Greenlee. “And if we stop it early, we aren’t inconveniencing any places that might be thinking about it.”
Neither Sweetgreen nor Bluestone Lane immediately replied to requests for comment on the legislation.
Businesses have been going cashless for the last ten years. Advocates say that it increases the size of tips that service staff receive, limits the possibility of robbery, and speeds up the pace of service.
But like Greenlee, opponents have said that it discriminates against those who don’t have a permanent address, those who cannot meet the minimum balance requirements many banks require, and those too young to qualify for debit or credit cards.
Greenlee is an at-large councilmember and has a track record of introducing legislation to aid low-income workers and consumers, including the city’s paid sick leave law.