Van Leeuwen chain to pay NYC $33K for refusing to take cash

The city banned no-cash businesses in 2020. The ice cream chain plans to install "reverse ATMs" that load cash amounts onto cards.
Mayor Adams has pledged to uphold the cash law./Photo: Shutterstock

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has agreed to pay $33,500 in penalties to settle complaints that its 19 New York City shops refused to accept cash payments from customers, a violation of a local law intended to protect what officials call the underbanked.

Under the settlement with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the chain has already started to accept cash at the city branches. The department said it has been informed by the multiregional treats brand that it has removed all signs and other notices that indicate patrons must pay with a credit or debit card.

It noted that Van Leeuwen intends to outfit at least some of the 19 stores with what are known as reverse ATMs, or kiosks that convert cash into a cash-loaded debit card. The city indicated that use of those devices are allowed under the law requiring that retail establishments accept cash.

The department said it was ready to proceed with 90 cases in administrative court against Van Leeuwen, which it said had refused to accept cash since the ban on credit-only payments began in November 2020.

That law was put into effect after several quick-service chains announced the opening of credit-and-debit-only units in the city right before the pandemic took hold. The aim was to speed up service by eliminating the need for order takers to count bills and coins when taking cash payments, and similarly to count out any change that was due the customer.

The no-cash policies also fit with a changeover by the brands to self-service ordering kiosks. Using a card or smartphone at those stations typically takes less time than feeding bills and coins into them.

The move drew complaints from consumers and public advocates, who complained that not all New York City residents could afford a credit card or smartphone, and that not all had a bank account, a foundation for credit payments.

College students living in the city were among those who expressed a preference to continue paying in cash.

The outcry led to the passage of a city ordinance in February 2020 that prohibited restaurants and retail establishments from refusing to accept cash. It went into effect in November of that year.

“Cash is king, which is why the Cashless Ban Law was passed to protect the unbanked and underbanked in our city,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in announcing the deal with Van Leeuwen. “We will not allow any business to take advantage of this vulnerable population or penalize customers just for wanting to use cash to pay for things.

“This agreement will not only ensure that those who patronize Van Leeuwen will now have the option of paying in cash, but, more importantly, it sends a clear message that those who repeatedly violate this law will be held accountable.”

Van Leeuwen could not immediately be reached for comment.

The chain has 16 scoop shops outside the city, including branches in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. It is known for its high-quality ice creams, as well as its array of vegan frozen treats.

The settlement with the city requires the brand to pay its $33,500 in penalties by Nov. 2.

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