Coin Shortage Hurting Local Businesses

NBC 7 Responds found a shortage of coins is affecting all kinds of businesses

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Many of us never give a second thought to coins. Coins seem to just appear under cushions, in pockets, or in the laundry. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a shortage of coins and some businesses are feeling the pinch.

"We turn around approximately $400 worth of quarters for our sized laundromat," said Evelya Rivera who co-owns Vintage Wash House in La Mesa. "We went to the bank and they sold us $20 of quarters."

Rivera spent hours looking for more quarters to refill her change machine, but eventually had to give up at the bank.

"I had to go out and ask friends and family to sell me their hoard of quarters," Rivera said.

Laundromats may be one of the biggest hit by the coin shortage, but businesses across the country, from pharmacies to grocery stores, are also pinching pennies. Many have put up signs asking for people to pay with a credit card or in exact change because of the shortage.

"One of the unexpected outcomes of this terrible pandemic is the flow of currency, especially coins, has ground to a halt," said Brian Wallace, the CEO of the Coin Laundry Association.

Wallace says while some laundromats have switched to using credit cards, 60% only accept coins. The shortage is hitting them very hard.

"If we can't make change, we can't make money," Wallace said. "We need to move on with the changes, but also take care of customers who may not have another way to pay."

The U.S. Mint had originally cut back on production to protect employees during the pandemic. It has since sped up production, but hasn't caught up to demand.

The Federal Reserve says there are enough coins in circulation, but there may be shortages in parts of the country. To help prevent a shortage, bulk orders of coins were limited and the U.S. Coin Task Force has been created to try and find ways to help prevent a nation-wide shortage.

Wallace says more people than usual are relying on laundromat change machines, because fewer people are exchanging coins at the bank or grocery store. Even if a person doesn't use the laundromat, they still might need to go there for quarters.

"A lot of apartment complexes do not have change machines," Rivera said. "People will come and use (our machines) as a personal bank, take $20 and walk out the door."

The Coin Laundry Association estimates there are 30,000 laundromats in the United States. So far, they have not heard of any going out of business, but without quarters many owners are running out of time.

"We're trying to be creative, we're trying to scrounge quarters where we can," Wallace said. "We want to make sure people can keep doing their laundry."

Rivera was able to find $1,200 of quarters, but says that will only last for three weeks.

"I've reached out to Congress, the Senate, to local politicians and the Federal Reserve," Rivera said. "Once we run out of quarters, we have to shut our doors."

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