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Nationwide coin shortage leaves Durango businesses pinching pennies

‘It’s been a tremendous hardship,’ laundromat owner says
The public health response to the coronavirus pandemic has slowed circulation of coins. Now, local businesses don’t always have spare change when they need it.

La Plata County banks, laundromats and car washes are seeing the signs of yet another unexpected disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic – a coin shortage.

Word of a coin supply disruption has been rolling through the nation for months. Retail stores, like King Soopers, have stopped giving coins for change. Businesses dependent on coins have offered incentives to customers for using coins. While some local business representatives say the shortage seems to be calming, others have not returned to a sense of normalcy.

“(The shortage) had a slow trickle effect and all the sudden it’s like, go to the bank and now we can’t get change,” said Jim Shoultz, general manager at Durango Rapid Wash.

In normal circumstances, coins go in and out of circulation over a predictable period of time. Retail transactions and coin recyclers typically return a significant amount of coins to circulation on a daily basis. In 2019, retailers and coin recyclers put more than 80% of the nation’s circulating coins into the supply chain, according to a United States Mint statement last week.

But the circulation of coins has slowed. Public health precautions, intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, have kept people home and shopping less. Some businesses that primarily use coins, like arcades, vending machines and laundromats, temporarily closed their doors because of stay-at-home measures. National media outlets have also reported that COVID-19-related precautions, like limited staffing, in the U.S. Mint have slowed production of new coins.

There are enough coins in the economy, the U.S. Mint statement said. But slower circulation means sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed. To help replenish the supply chain, consumers can pay for items in exact change and return spare coins to circulation, the statement said.

“Due to the fact that car washes usually run on coins, it makes it extremely difficult,” Shoultz said.

Durango Rapid Wash converted its machines to take dollar bills instead of coins. The Bank of Colorado had to redirect its regular coin shipments. In June, it had to transfer $50,000 in coins in one shipment. The transfer weighed more than 3,200 pounds – and required a special vehicle, said Greg Behn, regional president for the bank.

“There was a point where everybody was a little worried about it in early July, but I think it’s starting to relax a little bit,” Behn said.

For example, Texas restricted banks’ coin orders, but those restrictions have since been lifted. Pre-COVID-19, a coin shortage would be abnormal, but during the pandemic, not as much, Behn said.

“A lot of things are coming out of COVID that we didn’t foresee ahead of time. ... It’s just one of those issues we’ve got to work through,” Behn said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue in the long run.”

The coin circulation disruption has not affected the city of Durango’s parking meter program, said Wade Moore, parking operations manager.

“We’re not seeing customers having an issue getting coins,” Moore said. “It seems to be more of a national problem than a local problem.”

Not true, said Frankie White, a Durango resident whose change supply has run dry. She tried to park last week on Main Avenue but didn’t have coins. The parking meter didn’t accept credit cards, she said, and she couldn’t get coins from the grocery stores.

“What is the city going to do?” she said. “They’re still collecting my change, but I can’t get change.”

But Moore said Durango parking meters help put $10,000 to $15,000 in coins back into circulation every week.

Businesses like Town Plaza and North Main Laundromats say they are seeing local impacts.

“For the last four or five months, it’s been a tremendous hardship on our business,” said Richard Andrews, who owned the businesses for 30 years.

Andrews believes businesses from around town have come to the laundromat to get quarters for their customers. He’s refilling coin dispensers more frequently. For example, he filled dispensers at both locations Wednesday, and then again Thursday.

But he also sees people coming in, getting change and leaving – without bringing any laundry in with them.

“That’s $1,200 in coins that aren’t going back into my machines,” he said. “That’s really what’s going on. It’s a phenomenon, to tell you the truth.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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