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San Francisco officially bans cashless stores

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Few locations affected, but backers call it a preventative measure as digital payment methods proliferate

Amazon Go store in San Francisco’s Financial District.
Photo by Brock Keeling

Hard money is still good almost anywhere in San Francisco, as the city Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a new law Tuesday requiring that all brick-and-mortar retail businesses in the city accept cash.

District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown introduced the measure earlier this year, telling lawmakers and constituents that the new rule ensures the city’s poorest residents don’t end up shut out of access to basic goods and services.

The final version of the measure reads, in part:

San Francisco strives to be a welcoming, inclusive place for all city residents. [...] For many City residents (for example. those who are denied access to credit, or who are unable to obtain bank accounts), the ability to engage in consumer transactions depends on the ability to pay for goods and many services in cash.

This is especially true of the very poor. [...] Denying the ability to use cash as a payment method means excluding too many people. [...] The city must remain vigilant in ensuring its economy is inclusionary and accessible to everyone.

In 2017, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) estimated that 6.5 percent of American households do not have a bank account, composing roughly 20.5 million people.

“Almost 17 percent (16.9 percent) of black households and 14 percent of Hispanic households were unbanked in 2017,” notes the FDIC report.

That resource did not break down data regionally—and the city hasn’t studied the question since 2005—so it’s hard to say how many people in SF do not use banks today.

The final law includes some exceptions, such as exempting temporary or non-stationary retail outlets like food trucks and pop-up shops. The measure specifies that stores must accept cash up to $5,000, but may demand other forms of payment beyond that.

In April, Amazon resolved to start taking cash at its Amazon Go stores in SF in order to dodge the pending ban. Coffee purveyor Blue Bottle also temporarily toyed with the idea of going cashless.

Breaking the new rules could result in a fine of up to $100. Multiple violations could drive fees up to $1,000.