One of the stranger repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic – a drop in the number of coins in circulation throughout the country – doesn’t seem to have surfaced yet in Frederick County in a significant way.
The shortage has led some businesses, especially larger retailers, to request that customers use exact change or pay with a card to avoid having to make change.
Retailers such as Walmart and Kroger have asked customers to use credit or debit cards, or pay with exact change, according to the financial reporting outlet Bloomberg.
At Sardi’s Pollo a la Brasa on Frederick’s Golden Mile, a sign by the register asked customers to pay with either exact change or a card.
Customers have been mostly understanding, with most seeming to understand that things are different right now, said Iqra Zelenkov, a spokeswoman for the company.
The restaurant has 15 locations, including Frederick, Hagerstown, Gaithersburg, and Prince George’s County, and Zelenkov said the change policy is a company-wide policy.
Starting around the middle of the pandemic, managers at several locations have gone to banks to get change and been told it’s not easily available, she said.
When you don’t have enough change, it can cause customer service issues, and they want to be transparent with customers, she said.
While some businesses such as Sardi’s have noticed a change, for stores in downtown Frederick and elsewhere, the shortage seems to be having little effect.
“It has had zero impact on us,” said Tom England, who, with his wife Marlene, owns the Curious Iguana book store and Dancing Bear toy store.
Part of that may be based on clientele.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, probably 80 percent of the store’s business was paid for by card, England said.
But several other stores downtown reported no issues with a shortage of coins, and Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, said she hasn’t heard from any businesses with a shortage.
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said he also hasn’t heard from any members that the shortage has caused a problem in the county.
Weldon said he talks to bank presidents in the county regularly and hasn’t had any reports of issues.
He said he thinks reports of the shortage may be seen by larger retailers as “another one of these pivots” in an effort to move away from handling cash and change and toward more kiosks and fewer human cashiers.
Dave Ryder, director of the U.S. Mint, said last week that the Mint had actually produced more coins this year than it has in almost 20 years.
According to the Federal Reserve, the Mint generated almost 1.6 billion coins in June, and is on pace to create 1.65 billion coins per month through the rest of the year.
But with more people working from home and not traveling as much, coins are not circulating through the economy as quickly as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not a coin supply problem, it’s a circulation problem,” Ryder said.
He urged Americans to use exact change, or take coins to banks or return them at kiosks.
Some customers have been coming into Middletown Valley Bank branches and asking if they have coins, said B.J. Goetz, the bank’s president and CEO.
He agreed with others that whatever problems stores are seeing are probably larger, national chains that deal in large amounts of cash.
Goetz said he hasn’t seen much of a local impact from the shortage.
And he’s heard from the Federal Reserve that the problem may be slowly easing on the national level as well.
“It’s slowly working itself through from the Federal Reserve aspect,” Goetz said.