Local store employees are being asked to bring in nickels, dimes and quarters from home as banks limit the number of coin rolls they sell to businesses due to a nationwide coin shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many store managers have been reluctant to ask customers to use exact change if they pay in cash, opting instead to provide coin rolls for workers to fill with whatever coins they can gather from home - or from others.
"We had one employee who has an aunt who had a ton of coins at home, so she brought them in and we bought those, and that helped immensely," said Jennifer Haack, manager at Kilwin’s Chocolates on Main Street in Hendersonville.
Haack said she also posted a request for coins on her store’s Facebook page, but only one person had responded in the days following the notice.
"We’re only able to get one roll of quarters per change order at the bank," she said. "We’ve been feeling the pinch for the past three weeks."
The coin shortage is yet another adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues setting records for the number of cases reported daily.
According to officials at the Federal Reserve, the coin shortage started when businesses began closing or slowing down in March and April, when the pandemic began spreading rapidly.
That, along with stay-at-home orders, began limiting coin circulation throughout the nation’s economy. The shortage also has been hampered by decreased coin production by the U.S. Mint as COVID-19 prevention measures have remained in place to protect employees.
A recently formed task force comprising representatives from numerous entities – including the U.S. Mint, the Fed, the American Bankers Association and the retail trade industry – is planning to issue its first set of recommendations to help solve the problem by the end of the month.
Though the coin shortage isn’t causing a serious dilemma at this point, it’s a headache for area business supervisors such as Black Bear Coffee Co. Manager Mary-Kate Meadows, who every night exchanges dollar bills for coins placed in the popular coffee house’s tip jar.
"A couple of us have used our coin jars from home and rolled them up," Meadows said. "It’s more of an inconvenience than a major problem."
She also said banks have been providing businesses with half-dollar pieces, or "Kennedy halves," as they were called when the U.S. Mint began producing them in the early 1960s in honor of President John F. Kennedy.
"The teenagers (on staff) didn’t know what they were," Meadows said with amusement, adding that employees and customers need to be careful because the half-dollars are often difficult to distinguish from quarters.
Matt Cooke, an employee at USA No. 1 Car Wash on Duncan Hill Road, said the shortage hasn’t presented a problem where he works because customers recycle the quarters they receive from the car wash’s $1- and $5-dollar bill changer when they wash their cars.
"Generally it works out about even," Cooke said.
He said he hasn’t seen many people using the change machine without washing their cars, but that hasn’t been the case with Mike Vann, who owns coin-operated Laundry Express on Asheville Highway near I-26.
Vann said he feels fortunate to have a "small surplus" of coins that get recirculated from his change machines into his washers and dryers, but has noticed an increase of people coming in to get coins without doing laundry – a situation that could jeopardize his livelihood.
"We might be limiting (the number of quarters they take) in the next week or so," he said. "If we run out of quarters, we literally have to shut our business down. We don’t have debit or credit machines.
"I’ve owned this laundry for seven years, and I’ve never seen anything like it," he added.
Managers at several local banks either declined to be interviewed for this story or did not return phone messages.
Stephen Kindland is a freelance writer, photographer and author of an award-winning children’s book titled "I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden!" He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.