By Abbey Weltman
As the U.S. grapples with a coin shortage brought on by markedly less in-person shopping during the pandemic, College Park has largely been spared.
The College Park McDonald’s is one of the few local stores that’s been impacted by the shortage. General manager Torronda Brown said McDonald’s used to receive more than 500 coins per week — until they suddenly received a markedly diminished supply, and without warning.
“I don’t think we’ve been able to get over $500 in just quarters every week. And we haven’t been able to do that since July,” Brown said. “Sometimes we didn’t even get coins at all, and it’s not just this particular location.”
Brown reported that employees sometimes bring jugs of coins to work so they can give out change. The store has also put up signs informing customers about the shortage.
Prince George’s County has asked businesses to round to the nearest dollar or encourage shoppers to use credit or debit cards because of the shortage. But College Park businesses haven’t been pushed to adapt too much because so many customers, and especially college students, already use credit cards and digital payment apps, several businesses said.
Ken Castle, manager of Blaze Pizza, said he saw the effect of the shortage first hand, though, at some local stores.
“I was going to the grocery store in July, when I first started noticing where there was no coins,” Castle said, “and some places weren’t accepting cash at all at that point.”
But Castle confirmed that he and other College Park business owners have not been particularly impacted by the shortage.
“Cash has kind of taken the backseat in the last 20 years,” he said.
Castle also noted that using credit cards and apps makes transactions easier and faster. For students on the University of Maryland’s (UMD) busy campus, carrying less cash may be safer, too.
Bart Hipple, the assistant director of communications for the UMD Department of Dining Services, said that the coin shortage is having only a minor impact on the cafes and convenience stores on campus.
“During the pandemic, we had signs up that said, ‘Please give exact change because there’s a coin shortage,’ but there hasn’t been any real impact, so we took the signs down.”
Hipple confirmed that students rarely use cash, paying instead with credit cards or apps that debit their university accounts. He even suggested that the pandemic might push cash to the brink of extinction.
“Since your parents were little, we all knew money was dirty, and you wash your hands,” he said. “Now it’s even more so.”
Alex Turner, a sophomore majoring in communications at UMD, said she was at Dunkin’ Donuts when she first heard about the coin shortage. She used to frequently pay with cash but stopped because it had become inconvenient.
“Now if I bring cash, it’s for an emergency — it’s become sort of a last resort,” she said.
If College Park’s marketplace is evidence of our future, coin shortages may soon be a thing of the past.