Few stores accept only cash
Owners trying to keep prices down
Four cups of yogurt lie abandoned on the top shelf of the freezer.
No one has claimed them for three days. No one likely will.
The occasion is par for the course at the Yogurt Pump, one of the few downtown Chapel Hill businesses that don’t accept credit cards.
Customers expecting to pay for their treats with plastic often need to run to the nearest ATM.
“We put it in the freezer, and they say they’ll go get cash and come back, but a lot of people don’t,” said Yogurt Pump employee Leah Wingerd.
“After, like, three or four days, we throw them away. I think we waste a lot of yogurt that way.”
While only a handful of downtown businesses have resisted the plastic revolution as Yogurt Pump has, each requires cash for the same reason: to help their customers save money.
Each credit card transaction typically costs a business a flat fee and a percentage of the purchase value, causing business owners to drive up prices to compensate.
At Locopops or Yogurt Pump, where almost every purchase is less than $2.50, the fees would add an additional 10 percent or so to the price.
“For two dollars, it ends up being a big percentage,” Yogurt Pump owner Scott Stephenson said. “It would run our prices up.”
Cash-only tobacco paraphernalia store Expressions, which has an in-store ATM, accepted credit cards from the time it opened in 2001 until its card machine broke a few months ago, said co-owner John Long.
He said his credit card company refused to buy him a new machine, insisting he pay for it himself.
“My initial response was, ‘I have to buy a machine that pays you money?’ And their answer was, ‘Yes,’” Long said.
“So I threw the broken one in the garbage and called the ATM company and bought an ATM.”
Expressions is the priciest of any of the cash-only businesses: A typical customer drops $15 to $50 at a time, and its most expensive item — an elaborately decorated tobacco pipe — will run you $700.
But patrons have appreciated the switch to cash-only and the absence of an ATM fee, Long said.
“We’re just trying to keep our costs down for our customers,” he said. “And not paying thousands of dollars a year in credit card fees is one way of doing it.”
How the cash-only decision affects these businesses’ profits is difficult to determine.
James Rippe, co-owner of cash-only bar Bub O’Malley’s, acknowledged that without the ability to blindly put drinks on a tab, customers might buy fewer drinks.
“But the difference is, at Bub’s, I’m not looking to have raging drunks in my bar,” he said. “So taking advantage of someone buying more product because they’re hammered is not what I’m looking for.”
His bar also has an ATM inside, but it carries a $1.75 fee.
Restaurants such as Cosmic Cantina and Franklin Street Pizza & Pasta require a minimum transaction of a few dollars to cover the credit card free.
Stephenson said he has considered accepting credit cards at the Yogurt Pump, with a minimum purchase value of $4 to $5, and he will revisit the idea this winter.
“I’m aware we’re living in a cashless society,” he said.
In the meantime, employees will continue smiling and politely saying, “Sorry, cash only” — a stipulation Wingerd said she must explain to about 40 percent of customers.
On a recent blazingly hot evening, an out-of-town customer got lost during her trek for an ATM.
Fourteen minutes after she left Yogurt Pump and seven minutes after her daughters had consumed the purchase, she returned, sweaty, but ready to complete the transaction.
“That’s $6.82,” the cashier said.
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