This city rule makes no “cents,” according to Big Apple businesses suffering under a ban on cashless establishments.
Upscale ice cream parlor Van Leeuwen has been slapped with $12,750 in fines across its NYC locations for not accepting legal tender, one of the many city merchants dinged for violating the year-old ban.
The city has gone after 23 businesses for violations. The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection received 152 complaints about cashless businesses across the city, the agency said. So far 16 businesses have been found guilty by the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and fines total $23,850.
Councilman Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn) said the crackdown was unfair.
“These agencies weaponize our statutes to torment small businesses in this city,” he said. “This is about raising revenue for the city.”
The city received a half-dozen complaints about Van Leeuwen’s cashless stores since November 2020, when the ban went into effect, according to agency spokeswoman Carmel Agnant.
Under the law, stores must accept cash unless they have a machine to convert cash to a prepaid card. They cannot charge more for paying in cash, Agnant said.
The City Council passed the cashless ban in January 2020, as more businesses went cashless to combat the spread of COVID. Supporters of the ban said cashless businesses discriminate against minors and poor people who may not have bank accounts or credit cards.
“The City of New York cannot allow the digital economy to leave behind the 25 percent of New Yorkers who are chronically unbanked and underbanked,” then-Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), the bill’s sponsor, said at the time its passage.
In the Van Leeuwen case, the city fired off a “cease-and-desist” letter to the ice cream chain but it continued to flout the law, the Consumer Affairs spokeswoman said.
Ben Van Leeuwen, the ice cream parlor’s co-founder, denied the violations, saying he had not refused cash payment because “no one has offered it,” the city said.
But the city submitted affidavits and photographs of signs in windows saying they do not accept cash, according to the OATH hearing decision.
Van Leeuwen “expressed his dismay that this provision of law existed and was being enforced when there were more important problems in the world,” according to OATH documents.
Elsewhere, Rizzoli Bookstore on Broadway on the Upper West Side was fined $500 after pleading guilty before OATH and Roberta’s Pizza on Grand Street in Williamsburg Brooklyn Street Pizza has been ordered shell out $1,000 dough.
A woman who answered the phone at Rizzoli’s bookstore Friday acknowledged there was a period where they did not accept cash, but said, “We do now.” Roberta’s Pizza declined comment.
Reps for the restaurant industry noted the advantages of going cashless– particularly during a pandemic.
“We understand the equity issue,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, added. “However, going cashless presents operational opportunities for small businesses, as well. Especially in a time of COVID, customers and workers may feel safer.”
And cash-free means some peace of mind for workers worried about the next smash and grab robbery.
“Not having cash on site would mean less likely to have any sort of theft. And then, strictly, if everything was without cash, you wouldn’t have to worry about anything getting misreported or miscounted. It takes away a lot of the human error on the accounting side,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association.
Consumer Affairs defended the enforcement actions: “Cashless businesses isolate the more than 300,000 unbanked households in NYC from making transactions, as well as those who simply choose not to use plastic.”