Dear WNY Business Owner:
What the hell is wrong with you damned people? I refer to the fact that there seems to be some kind of feckin’ cultural and economic taboo up here against accepting credit and debit cards. We noticed this aberration shortly after moving here last fall – we were surprised to learn that an unusually high number of businesses only accept cash (or, oddly enough, check) in return for goods and services. Okay, I guess they’re a little behind the curve out here, I figured. But yesterday morning it got personal.
See, all I wanted was a bite of breakfast before I had to teach class. So I stop by Tim Hortons to grab a bagel sandwich. I hand over my VISA debit card, and the girl says “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t accept credit cards.” Fuck – of course not. I have momentarily forgotten where I live and have failed to stuff my wallet with unmarked bills.
So I migrate down the street, where I find this promising looking little diner. I don’t see any signs warning me that I’m entering the 19th Century, but I figure I’ll ask anyway before I order, which turns out to be a good idea. I beat my frustration back long enough to ask the next obvious question – okay, fine, where is the nearest ATM?
The reaction on her face was almost zen in its blankness. The last time I saw that look was at a family reunion when, after a couple too many beers, I asked one of my cousins to count to fifteen without taking off his shoes. Finally, “uhhh, I think there’s probably an ATM machine at the convenience store down the road that way.” (Note from the Language Police: the “M” in “ATM” stands for “machine,” so “ATM machine” is redundant.)
It’s this reaction that probably baffles me the most – she’s apparently never heard the question before. I’m the first guy to walk into this restaurant with a debit card. Ever. And I’m getting used to it. The first time I went into Consumers Beverage (a really good beer store, despite their cash-only policy) I got the same thing. Once I recovered from the shock of learning that a major beverage operation (they have several stores around the Buffalo area) didn’t accept cards, I asked the “nearest ATM” question, expecting the guy to be pointing across the street before I could even finish. Nope. Silence for a second or two, clearly thinking about it, then, “if you go up the street this way a couple blocks and turn right, there are a couple convenience stores a few blocks down that I think have ATM machines.” He was polite, he was helpful, he clearly felt bad that I had been inconvenienced, but my question was one he simply hadn’t encountered before.
I can only speculate, from the cash-only culture up here, that you can break into most any house and find somebody’s life savings stuffed under the mattress.
So this morning I get past the sputtering and ranting (nothing really torques me off like the little stuff, you know) and start to think calmly about why it’s like this, and I imagine these policies may have something to do with cost – companies pay a three or four percent charge to accept cards, so maybe this is a way of keeping costs down a bit. I can respect that.
But here’s a suggestion I’d like these businesses to ponder, one that will satisfy those who’d like to save 4% as well as those who want or need to use the card. Do both. List the card price on your menu and offer a 4% discount for those who pay with cash. Everybody’s covered, and that electronic cash register you have can be easily rigged to calculate the discount with the push of one little button, I bet.
Had you done that, I’d have gotten breakfast before class yesterday and you wouldn’t have had to watch business walking out the door hungry.
[Note to self: always carry cash, always carry cash….]