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Philadelphia is the first city in the US to ban cashless stores. Could LA be next?

Visa credit cards are arranged on a desk February 25, 2008 in San Francisco, California
Visa credit cards are arranged on a desk February 25, 2008 in San Francisco, California
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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It’s a tough reality to ignore: the world around us is slowly but surely shifting away from cash.

Forgot your wallet at home? Have your friend buy you a beer and send them money via Venmo later. Want a soda from the vending machine but don’t have a buck on you? Pull up Apple Pay or Google Pay on your phone and simply wave it at the reader. Today, many store checkouts, parking garages, and yes, even vending machines all accept not just plastic, but mobile payments too. Some businesses, like the L.A.-based salad chain “Sweetgreens,” has already gone completely cashless, a move met with mixed responses by customers.

Amazon has also opened “Amazon Go” convenience stores in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, where customers scan a barcode linked to their Amazon Prime account when they enter the store and their purchases are charged to the account instead of individually purchased at checkout. But for some people who either don’t have debit or credit cards, don’t want them, or can’t access a bank, the cashless craze could mean that certain people don’t have the kind of access to the market that they once did. And entire cities are starting to take notice.

Last week, Philadelphia’s mayor signed into law a bill that, when it goes into effect in July, would require most retailers to accept cash. New Jersey’s state legislature has also passed a bill that would ban cashless stores statewide, though it’s unclear whether it will be signed. Businesses that have gone cashless tout more efficient workers and improved safety since there’s no longer a need for big cash deposits to be on site. But others, in addition to concerns about market access, say businesses should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to be cashless.

With guest host Libby Denkmann


Shwanika Narayan, business reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle; she tweets @Shwanika

Sucharita Kodali, e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research, a technology research and advisory firm based in Cambridge, MA; she tweets @smulpuru