There are fewer and fewer businesses that only take cash. JC Reindl, Detroit Free Press
None of them accept Bitcoin, either
Admission is just $5 at Farmington Civic Theater, a historic and first-run cinema in downtown Farmington.
But don't even think of pulling out a debit or credit card at the box office. Since it opened in 1940, the theater has taken payment only in actual dollars and coins.
“After 78 years of being cash-only, it is a hard habit to break," explained theater General Manager Scott Freeman.
The Farmington movie theater is one of a fast-dwindling number of metro Detroit businesses that do not accept credit cards and still require customers to pay for nearly everything in cash. (Caveat: A few do take personal checks.)
Managers and owners of these businesses cite fraud concerns, payment-processing fees and the plain-old tradition and simplicity of cash as reasons they have resisted installing credit card machines.
And they continue to turn down plastic, even as more people — especially those younger than 40 — stop carrying cash on a regular basis and attempt to pay for nearly everything from groceries to $2.07 cups of coffee using debit and credit cards.
Members of this cash-only club include various barbershops, restaurants, takeouts, nail salons, dry cleaners, tailors and parking lot attendants. Some are family-owned businesses that have been around decades and have loyal followings.
“For $5 to see a show, somehow I can scrape up $5 in cash," said Farmington Civic Theater customer Ken Kiraly, 51, of Livonia.
To be sure, there are undoubtedly some off-the-books and tax-dodging businesses that strictly deal in cash. They are not included in this article.
How long cash-only storefronts can continue their stand against charge cards is an open question. Nationwide, only about 15 percent of in-store purchases last year were done with cash, according to Javelin Strategy & Research consulting firm.
Even longtime cash-only holdouts such as Dutch Girl Donuts and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit eventually gave in and started taking cards rather than lose cashless customers.
Dutch Girl Donuts, a city landmark at Woodward and 7 Mile that dates to 1947, began accepting charge cards two years ago for purchases of $5 or more. The price of one Dutch Girl doughnut is 75 cents.
"As time went on, more and more people only had credit cards," said store manager Toya Smith, "so a lot of people had to leave and go to the ATM and come back."
Businesses that accept credit cards also accept higher costs. They not only must buy or lease credit card processing equipment, but also pay small payment-processing fees on each card transaction.
These fees generally total about 2.5 percent of each sale, or between 1.8 percent to 2 percent for businesses on the better processing plans and as much as 5.5 percent for those on other plans, according to Phillip Parker, founder of CardPaymentOptions.com, an Austin, Texas-based business-owner advocate firm.
The fees are why gas stations advertise two prices: their cash price and their credit card price, typically 10 cents more per gallon.
Payment-processing costs are one reason why Ernie’s Market, 8500 Capital St. in Oak Park, remains cash-only for most orders. The family-owned business is renowned for its giant sandwiches, which are priced at $6 for one meat and top out at $9 for Ernie's seven-meat "monster" sandwich.
Lori Hassan, daughter of store owner Ernie Hassan, said that avoiding credit card fees has allowed the market to keep prices low.
"We offer a high-quality product at a very reasonable price," she said. "So in order to keep our customers happy and not raise prices, we do it that way. And they seem to appreciate it because they keep coming back."
'It's cash only'
Customers of these cash-only businesses typically say that they don't mind the inconvenience — especially if ATMs are nearby.
Detroit barber Sam Zeolla, 87, who has been cutting hair downtown since 1954, directs any cashless visitors to his barbershop in the Chrysler House, 719 Griswold St., to the ATM on the ground floor.
"A lot of these young fellows today, they don’t carry cash," Zeolla said. "So they come over here and ask me whether it’s cash or credit card. And I say, 'No, it’s cash only.' "
Cash-only Miller's Bar in Dearborn, 23700 Michigan Ave., keeps an ATM on its premises for customers who find themselves a few dollars short. The popular restaurant and bar dates to 1941 and is known for its "ground round" hamburgers and cheeseburgers.
It is owned by brothers Mark and Dennis Miller, whose father, Russ Miller, took over the business from their uncle George Miller in 1947.
"We've been strictly cash since the day we opened up. My dad never took credit cards, my brother and myself never take credit cards," Mark Miller, 66, said. "Our bills are very reasonably priced — a cheeseburger, a fry and a coke is $13. So for $13, you don’t need a credit card.”
Still, there are occasions when someone arrives with only credit cards and no cash or even a debit card for an ATM withdrawal. Those customers can still get served, Mark Miller said.
“If they don’t have cash, we just tell them to come back and pay us later. And that’s exactly what they do," he said. "Very rarely will I ever have anybody try to cheat me.
I have people send me checks from all over the country who didn’t have cash on them.”
The brothers have no plans to ever start taking plastic.
“We’re kind of old fashioned in a lot of things," Mark Miller said. "Maybe this whole world is moving a little too fast.”
Credit card fraud is one of the reasons why Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips, 22200 Fenkell Ave., near Brightmoor in Detroit, doesn't accept plastic.
Owner Harold Barber, 67, said he has heard horror stories from other restaurant owners who lost hundreds of dollars in sales after customers paid for meals with what turned out to be stolen credit cards.
Credit card providers can yank back payments from merchants when fraud is suspected. These chargebacks make whole the rightful owners of stolen credit cards, but they leave merchants without any payment for the food, merchandise or services rendered.
“So you eat the loss," Barber said.
Some credit card providers even charge merchants a penalty along with the chargeback, plus an additional processing fee for the forced refund amount, according to Parker, the CardPaymentOptions.com founder.
Even as some businesses cling to cash, more of them appear to be dropping cash completely as a payment option.
This fall, the Bon Bon Bon sweets shop in Detroit and Hamtramck stopped accepting cash and became a charge card-only retailer, using the Square card processor that is popular among smaller merchants.. Square says its typical processing fee is about 2.75 percent.
Owner Alexandra Clark said the small number of her customers who paid in cash — 5 percent to 8 percent of sales — wasn't enough to justify the time and hassle of handling, counting and depositing money at the bank.
The business' average sale is about $21, she said, which is "sort of the point where people are starting to pull out their credit card anyway.”
Jesse Dorogusker, head of hardware for San Francisco-based Square, said the business is seeing more retailers nationwide do away with cash drawers and accept only charge cards.
"The trend toward card acceptance is because that’s how people want to pay," Dorogusker said.
10 cash-only businesses
Sam’s Barber Shop, 719 Griswold in downtown Detroit.
Miller's Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn
Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips, 22200 Fenkell Ave. in Detroit
Dynasty Chinese Food, 13340 E Jefferson Ave. in Detroit
Supreme Parking, three surface lots and one garage in downtown Detroit
Farmington Civic Theater, 33332 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington
Taqueria Lupitas, 3443 Bagley St. in Detroit
Duly’s Place Coney Island, 5458 W. Vernor Hwy. in Detroit
Ernie's Market, 8500 Capital St. in Oak Park
Taqueria El Rey, 4730 W. Vernor Hwy. in Detroit
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