Local stores suffering from national coin shortage

As seen at this Royal Farms in Rehoboth Beach, visitors can trade in coins worth more than $10 for cash and a free fountain drink. A national coin shortage has caused issues for some businesses. (Delaware State News/Katie Redefer)

SUSSEX COUNTY — Spare change, anyone?

Of the many consequences that have emerged from COVID-19, a national coin shortage is another unusual result.

The shortage has crippled monetary transactions across the state, with convenience stores, restaurants, grocery stores, banks and laundromats among the businesses being hit hardest.

Due to American companies and banks closing or experiencing reduced business, and customers paying less often with cash, there has been a shortage of coins in circulation. The Federal Reserve attributes this to the pandemic, which has caused numerous changes to business models across the nation, resulting in slower coin circulation and supply chain problems.

The Federal Reserve also claims that the number of coins currently in the economy is adequate, and more coins will eventually flow back into circulation as the economy continues to reopen.

Officials there have created a task force to address options regarding the coin shortage by the end of July.

The U.S. Mint, which manufactures the country’s coin supply, reduced staff and working capacities earlier this year to stop the spread of COVID-19. It has now returned to normal working capacity due to the scarcity of coins.

Many banks in the Sussex County area have limited their normal coin exchanges because of the shortage.

PNC Bank in Lewes reported that while it is certainly experiencing the effects of the coin shortage, it is an issue all banks in the area are coping with. Fulton Bank in Rehoboth Beach also noted issues due to the shortage, saying it is only giving out quarter rolls to businesses rather than to individual patrons.

Shoppers can reap the benefits of the scarcity of coins by returning quarters and other coins to stores in need. Establishments like Wawa and Royal Farms offer customers food and drink in return for bringing in coins.

Specifically, Wawa customers can exchange $5 of coins for a coffee and $50 of coins for a small sub at the Coastal Highway location in Lewes. At the Royal Farms locations in Rehoboth Beach, visitors can trade in coins worth more than $10 for cash and a free fountain drink.

Customers should call their desired Wawa or Royal Farms before bringing their coins to learn which locations offer the exchange and if they need to roll the coins beforehand.

Marshall Jenney, owner of Roundabout Laundromat off Rehoboth Avenue, said the coin shortage has impacted the banks the business gets its coins from. The laundromat has two change machines, and Mr. Jenney said the city of Rehoboth Beach uses some of his coins for the parking meters.

“So, every time we go to the bank, they give us just limited quantities” of coins, he said. “There’s restricted supply for sure.”

Mr. Jenney said the laundromat itself has not run out of coins yet, but the shortage certainly is affecting many businesses.

“It’s kind of amazing to see this coin shortage, because it’s real. I mean, at first I didn’t believe it, but then I go to the bank and it’s restricted. It’s surprising,” he said.

Still, he is optimistic the banks will get the shortage under control before his business suffers any serious consequences.

At Rehoboth Beach Convenience, also on Rehoboth Avenue, owner Jon Wright said he’s had trouble getting enough coins from the bank, as well.

“I called the bank last week for a change order, and they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do that because of the pandemic,’ ” Mr. Wright said. “I said, ‘Listen, we just need 50 singles and $50 in quarters.’ So, we got that.”

Mr. Wright is worried about having to round up prices on his products if he cannot get more coins from the bank soon.

“We’re just winging it the best we can right now. I think if this goes on for another 30 days, then we are going to have to switch over to either rounding up or we’re going to have to look at going pure credit,” he said.

“It’s difficult for us because if somebody wants to buy a soda on a credit card, with what we’re paying as a fee for that credit card use, we’ll have to raise our prices in order to do that.”

Unlike many businesses, Zelky’s Beach Arcades is doing just fine for now. General manager Matt Weiner said the arcade machines take refillable cash cards instead of quarters.

Mr. Weiner also said one cash-related issue his business has seen is extended waiting times to utilize cash transport services, speculating that this holdup could be contributing to the scarcity of coins.

“From my experience, we weren’t able to get a hold of the money transport services, like Garda. It took us over a month to be able to get in contact with anybody, and then one day, they just showed up without ever calling us or scheduling anything,” Mr. Weiner said. “I can imagine that if we’re having this type of issue then other people must be also, and I think that’s more of the issue there. There’s coins available. They just aren’t moving.”

Like convenience stories, some retail and grocery stores are offering cash in exchange for spare coins.

“I took a can of coins to Giant because they have a Coinstar machine. While I was trying to read the instructions, a staffer came over and suggested I take them to customer service,” Long Neck resident Jim Beal said. “The lady there took them to the backroom to their coin counter and came back a few minutes later and gave me $85.”

Some residents worry about what the coin shortage could mean for cash transactions in the future. A.B. Dorsey of Wilmington said she is concerned about what will happen to people who rely on small transactions if cash is being used less.

“For all the apparently good reasons to abandon cash, it follows that the cashless sacrifices freedom and privacy at the very least. Those who depend on cash for a little income, like panhandlers, yard and garage sale folks, Facebook deals, would be left out. What are they supposed to do? Carry smartphones and card readers?” Ms. Dorsey asked.