In addition to the worldwide health and economic tribulations, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a shortage of coinage in the United States that has left many quite literally short-changed. Laundromats, fast food restaurants, currency exchanges and grocery stores have all felt the strain of the limited availability of change throughout the westside of Chicago and its western suburbs.
“There is an adequate amount of coins in the economy, but the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed,” reads a July 23 press release from the U.S. Mint.
Precautions to slow COVID-19’s spread have decreased retail sales activity and substantially reduced deposits from third-party coin processors, which account for the majority of coins put into circulation, according to the U.S. Mint.
In the meantime, businesses are continuing to operate as normally as possible with the limited supply of change in their cash registers, hanging signs in the windows directing customers to pay in exact change or to use alternative payment methods.
Askale Phillips, co-owner of Maywood’s Kingston Market Caribbean & African Groceries at 1401 S. 5th Ave., said she had to go to her local currency exchange to source coin for the family-run grocery store.
“I was able to get quarters, but I observed the cashier at the currency exchange telling a customer before me that she’s only allowed to sell one roll of quarters,” said Phillips.
The customer in front of her, Phillips said, was looking to buy more than one. Because of that, Phillips only asked for one roll.
Kingston Market has run out of quarters more than twice since the shortage started. Most recently, it ran out the weekend of July 25.
Phillips thinks that people feel safer not using physical currency during COVID-19 because cash and coins have come into contact with innumerable hands over time.
While Phillips said the shortage has affected the store “greatly,” it is not entirely cash-dependent and accepts Apple Pay, as well as credit and debit cards.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, 7501 W North Ave., in River Forest has signs posted outside directing customers to pay with checks and credit or debit cards due to the coin shortage, but manager Martin Reynosa said the grocery store has yet to run out of change and has a good supply.
Coin shortage signs are displayed at each register letting customers know on Aug. 2, inside Fresh Tyme on North Avenue in River Forest. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer
The 7-Eleven location at 7749 Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park has a sign posted on the front door that reads: “Dear Customers, due to a shortage at the federal reserve, we are very short on coins. Please consider paying in exact change or using a debit/credit card. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Some businesses have not yet felt the strain of the shortage, including Forest Park’s The Laundry Room, 206 Des Plaines Ave.
Jill Bush, co-owner of The Laundry Room, said although she’s heard about the coin shortage, their business hasn’t been affected yet.
“Forest Park Bank has kept us supplied, but we’re following the situation and keeping our fingers crossed,” said Bush, who added that most customers bring their own change for the washers and dryers.
Cathy Pruger from Forest Park Bank said on July 30 that the bank is aware of a coin shortage as part of economic changes due to COVID-19.
“We can still acquire roll coin,” Pruger said, “and we have no plans to increase any fees to customers or limit commercial transactions.”
According to Pruger, Forest Park Bank is monitoring the coin situation closely but, should fees for the bank increase, they may have to make further adjustments.
Pruger said Forest Park Bank has seen an increase in customers bringing in loose coins and trading them for currency, possibly as a result of hearing about the coin shortage and wanting to help put change back into circulation.
To restore coin circulation to a healthy state, the U.S. Mint asks citizens to spend their share of coins, deposit them in banks or exchange them for cash. Don’t feel ashamed to pay for a pizza in all quarters, dig behind your couch cushions for spare nickels or break into your childhood piggybank – the U.S. Mint is counting on you.