Cash or credit? The answer matters to local merchants | Editorial

It’s hard to know which side to take in the national fight between the banking industry and the retail industry over so-called “swipe fees,” the amount banks charge retailers for letting consumers use a debit card.

But one thing is clear. Those of us who routinely use plastic are doing neither ourselves nor our local merchants a favor. 

Merchants on Vashon spend the equivalent of what they might pay a part-time employee to give us the privilege of using plastic. They’re spending what they might otherwise have left over at the end of the month to donate to our favorite charity. 

In some instances, they’re bleeding themselves. In other instances, they’re increasing their prices.

Either way, Vashon loses. All for the sake of convenience.

At The Beachcomber, we had no idea that our penchant for plastic was taking such a toll. Frankly, we’d never thought much about this issue — and, to the degree we did, we assumed credit cards, not debit cards, were the problem. 

But it turns out that both forms of plastic cost merchants money. And while the banking industry says corporate retailers simply transfer those costs onto consumers, we have reason to believe that’s not the case on Vashon, where most merchants strive to keep their prices competitive.

Several businesses over the years have tried to tackle the issue. A few places, Bob’s Bakery, for instance, simply won’t take plastic. At the Quartermaster Inn, Troy Kindred and Marie Browne put a note on their door last fall saying that the fees “are killing us” and announcing their decision to install an ATM.

Now, Vashon’s downtown merchants are teaming up, using an artful note at their cash registers to gently encourage customers to consider using cash or checks when they’re able. They’re taking a soft touch; the last thing they want is to drive customers away. But they are letting us know that if we’d only use cash, their costs would decline

And how hard is that? For some of us, not very.

So add “using cash or checks” to your list of those 50 things you can do to save the planet. Like recycling, it’s not difficult, and it can make a difference right here at home.



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