The beginning of the end of hard cash

DALLAS HANSEN / Winnipeg Free Press | October 24 2006

RESPONDING to a recent rash of robberies, Salisbury House, that most Winnipeg of culinary institutions, has declared it no longer wants your paper money after 10 p.m. Would-be robbers are thus advised to arrive before then.
Seriously, what happens when Sal’s gets robbed at 9:30? Will they scale back the cash ban another hour? What if there’s a hold-up during lunch hour? Will they move to refuse cash altogether?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a cash-only sort of fellow. I don’t have a credit card or an ATM card. I like to see my money disappear when I spend it.

Thus it’ll be interesting to see what happens the next time I roll in with a case of the midnight munchies and ravage a Three Cheese Double Nip plate. The process cheddar, mozza, and swiss will still be warm in my belly when the staff gets stuck with my handwritten IOU for $7.49 plus tax.

There are a number of reasons I don’t pay for things via debit card or credit card. My financial institution does not need to know I’m addicted to energy drinks or that I occasionally buy a copy of British Vogue. When, instead of handing over the cash, I swipe the stripe, the expenditure seems less tangible than when I have to part with my paper. Thus I end up spending more. Moreover, most banks apply service charges to debit card transactions. It’s bad enough the government taxes everything I buy — I would rather my bank didn’t as well. Thus I scissored my debit card years ago and have never regretted doing so.

Should a business be permitted to refuse legal tender? I think not. Cash rules, or at least it used to, and the currency of the Bank of Canada should be respected by all merchants open to the public. Actually, despite my general distaste for government regulation, I would prefer to see a federal law mandating that businesses must accept cash payments. To discriminate against cash-holders is a disgraceful practice.
While I sympathize with Salisbury House for being a frequent target of crime, have they ever heard of a drop safe? Seems to work for 7-Eleven. Regardless, during the recent robbery at Sal’s Fermor Avenue and St. Anne’s Road location, the robbers, according to a Winnipeg Police Service news release, “allegedly went from person to person, physically assaulting them and taking their money.” That is, they robbed not only the restaurant, but the restaurant patrons themselves, à la Pulp Fiction. How would a no-cash policy have prevented this? Will Salisbury House next insist that customers’ wallets be empty in order for them to receive service?

Salisbury House has set an alarming precedent. I can’t help wondering, What’s the next step? How many other businesses will hop on the no-cash bandwagon? How many will refuse cash payments completely? Most importantly, what will that mean for the thousands of Winnipeggers, and out-of-towners, who, like myself, value their privacy, or just prefer to pay with paper?

As far as those cash-resistant merchants are concerned, we can go to Hades, or take our business elsewhere — to soon-to-be increasingly scarce cash-friendly merchants. There will be diminishing room for stubborn holdouts in this brave new world of commerce. If you don’t like your every transaction tracked and recorded into a database, too bad. You’ll need an ATM card or a credit card to be a legitimate member of society.

Sal’s has taken a step down a slippery slope at the bottom of which customers will be paying via thumbscan or microchip implant. Think I’m exaggerating? Go to Japan, where ATM withdrawals require a biometric palm-print scan. Or check out a company called Applied Digital Solutions, which touts the “secure payment” applications for its skin-implantable VeriChip — a product the company is currently pitching to the U.S. military for its entire armed forces as a replacement for their dog tags.

Even contemplating such a future seems ickier than a plate of Sal’s Liver & Onions sided with overcooked frozen veggies and rehydrated mashed potatoes. Or even a present when, after ordering my meal, my server tells me, “Your money’s no good here.”