‘They just lost my business that day’: Councilmember wants to ban cashless businesses in Detroit

New study suggests 80% of people prefer paying with cards instead of cash

DETROIT – It’s a trend that is not slowing down, as new numbers show 80% of people prefer paying with cards instead of cash. It’s even led many small businesses to ditch accepting cash altogether, but that’s not sitting well with one Detroit council member.

Many businesses went cashless at the beginning of the pandemic when fears of transmission by touch were high.

Then when companies reopened, businesses had trouble rehiring workers, causing many to stay cashless. But councilmember Angela Whitfield Calloway worries if that decision will hurt businesses and our pandemic recovery.

“I get over there with my cash,” said Whitfield Calloway. “I’m looking for a way to check out with my cash, and I couldn’t find one.”

When Whitfield Calloway went to pay for lunch last week, she reached for a few dollar bills, only to find out that Plum Market, where she’d gone to, was a cashless establishment.

She is behind a newly proposed ordinance that would ban businesses from going cashless or providing ways to pay with cash if a company didn’t want to have cashiers.

“They just lost my business that day,” Whitfield Calloway said. “And I started thinking, ‘How many customers like myself, who are unaware of a cashless business, are being turned away?’”

According to a study from the University of Michigan Poverty Solutions, a move towards cashless societies could hurt more than one in five Detroiters who don’t have bank accounts and use cash exclusively.

Bans on cash also disproportionately hurt Black and brown Detroiters, as more than a third of Detroiters without bank accounts are Black or Hispanic.

“That type of rule or law or way of doing business is discriminatory because you’re discriminating against a group of people who may only want to do cash transactions,” Whitfield Calloway said.

But major businesses and most major venues like The Fox Theater, Little Caesars Arena, and Ford Field have already gone cashless, meaning a ban could disrupt downtown businesses.

But Whitfield Calloway maintains her proposal isn’t anti-business but pro-economy.

“You want to be able to be a fair economy and to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to purchase services or goods,” Whitfield Calloway said. “Whether they have cash or credit cards.”

The next step is to have the ordinance put up in front of the council next month.

Local 4 spoke with the Detroit Regional Chamber, who say this issue is so new they want to take a closer look. But it is worth noting major cities like New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, the heart of Silicon Valley, have all said cash needs to be accepted.

About the Authors:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.