Businesses Take New Approach to Pennies

Victoria Chow/Staff

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On any given day, UC Berkeley students are asked for spare change while walking to class on the outskirts of campus. But for senior Alexa Delacruz, this question is pointless because she does not bother carrying any.

ALKO Office Supply in Downtown Berkeley has recognized this trend and has starting rounding down cash purchases to the nearest 5 cent increment. Owner Gary Shows said he thinks pennies are a hassle and has stopped taking them.

"Pennies are kind of a bother," Shows said. "Most people try to get rid of them with the 'take a penny, leave a penny' bowls. Pennies fall on the floor and go everywhere. It's annoying to our customers and employees."

Ellen Lasher, owner of Al Lasher's Electronics on University Avenue, said that she takes a more informal approach to accepting pennies.

"Rounding off would be just fine and I usually don't worry about it, but there are still people who stand around and wait for their penny back," Lasher said. "If we got rid of our pennies we could get a lot of homeless off the street or feed the poor."

Shows said he created the penny-free model after recognizing that many don't carry change. He figured out the maximum he would lose if he started implementing this practice would be $300 or $400 per year.

"I decided that the smiles it brings people is worth it," Shows said.

Katherine Scherbel, marketing manager for the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that she thinks the penny-free model is very appealing to customers.

"(ALKO is) one of our main downtown businesses," Scherbel said. "I doubt that it's hurting them."

Senior Jennifer Yu said she does not see using pennies as an efficient way to purchase items.

"I try to use my credit card but if I have change, it usually goes in the tip jar," Yu said.

Scherbel also said ALKO does not flat-out refuse pennies.

Manager Sabrina Aller of the chocolatier Xocolate Bar on Solano Avenue said they do not say no to pennies.

"Money is money and it does not matter what form it comes in," Aller said. "If companies are having a hard time dealing with pennies as a form of currency then they should have lobbyists to get rid of pennies as a currency."

Sophomore Nisha Balaram always carries change around because she said as a "poor college student," she might need them.

"Pennies make me feel like I have more money than I actually do," Balaram said.

Jennifer Cogley, Buy Local Berkeley's sustainable business coordinator, said ALKO is implementing a unique idea.

"It's always great to support local, independent businesses who can implement innovative ideas like 'no pennies,'" Cogley said.


Contact Christina Berke at [email protected]

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