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Tight on quarters: Businesses, banks scramble as pandemic causes coin shortage

Richard Reeve
Updated: August 07, 2020 11:14 PM
Created: August 07, 2020 11:02 PM

That clinking-clanking sound you'll hear at Arcade Laundromat isn't just chump change. 

Quarters plunking out of change machines are the lifeblood of this St. Paul business. 

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But there's a growing issue, at least partly triggered by the pandemic. 

"We are having trouble getting coins," owner Nicholas Dillon said. "It's pretty basic. We go to the bank, and they will not give us any coins."

"We can't find no change," adds Leslie Moore, a regular customer. "The laundromat can't give you change, the bank can't give you change, the store can't give you change. It's a problem."

Tight on quarters: Businesses, banks scramble as pandemic causes coin shortage | KSTP Tight on quarters: Businesses, banks scramble as pandemic causes coin shortage | KSTP

Coinage is a valuable commodity here. 

A sign attached to the coin change machine reads, "Due to the national coin shortage, we ask that you use the machine ONLY if you are doing laundry here. Thank you."

Dillon says his change machines are drained of $500 a week from people who don't use his business.

"We're having multiple people a day come through, grab change out of here and walk out," Dillon said. "It really hurts us as a small business." 

"You're like a bank?" he was asked. "We are like a bank, absolutely right. You put your money in, you get money out. It's not just the money we want. We want the quarters, not the dollars." 

Experts say there are numerous reasons for this quarter quandary:

  • Small businesses like coffee shops, which act as change hubs, may be closed.
  • A lack of change at banks, including those with closed lobbies. 
  • Change kiosks either cordoned off or unpopular with health-conscious shoppers.
  • Coin supplies sitting in homes or closed businesses. 
  • Concerns about contamination from cash or coins.

Dillon says about 100 people come into his laundromat every day to clean and dry their clothes. 

He adds that 60% of them use cash — which means they need quarters.

There have been times, Dillon says, that he's simply run out. 

"I've had my banks actually call me, requesting quarters back from me and giving me a premium for those quarters," he said. 

"Everything's shut down right now. So it's difficult for the banks to get money, and in turn, they don't have the quarters to give back to us."

Western Bank sent out a notice to its customers saying the Federal Reserve is notifying institutions that it's limiting the number of issued coins. 

"A unique combination of key business closures, lack of change being deposited at banks, and decreased production at the U.S. Mint has resulted in a shortfall of coin in circulation," the letter states. 

But Dave Ryder, the director of the Mint says, "This isn't a coin supply problem, it's a circulation problem." 

A U.S. Mint spokesperson issued an email statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, which states in part:

"The United States Mint has continuously produced circulating coins without interruption during the Covid-19 crisis. … We implemented numerous measures to reduce the risk of employee exposure to COVID-19. As a testament to the commitment of the Mint workforce, we minted 1.7 billion circulating coins, which exceeded the planned production of 1.65 billion circulating coins. In fact, we are on track to mint more coins this year than we have produced in almost 20 years."

But that isn't helping Moore and her family right now. 

"They can't stop no one from using the coin machine, so when we come in, there's no more quarters in there, so we've got to go to other places to get more quarters," she said. 

Dillon says his manager is politely asking people to use the change machine only if they plan on doing business in the laundromat. 

He says his customers can now use credit, debit or an app so they don't have to use cash when doing their laundry. 

The Federal Reserve says U.S. consumers could feel this "coin gap" for the rest of the year, including the holiday shopping season. 

Dillon hopes the issue will end soon. 

"We hope it's going to end by the Federal Reserve, the mint creating more quarters, putting more in circulation and getting them out to us," he said.

 


Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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