[Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Feb. 9 to include comments from Hidden Grounds Co-Founder Anand Patel.]
New Jersey specialty coffee shop chain Hidden Grounds Coffee has agreed to pay a $2,000 penalty following two state law violation notices for not accepting cash.
In an announcement yesterday, state Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin identified the coffee business alongside three other New Jersey businesses that have received notices of violations of the state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), which requires merchants to accept cash payments and also to disclose any credit card surcharges or fees prior to customers placing orders.
Hidden Grounds Co-Founder Anand Patel told Daily Coffee News that the business has begun accepting cash, but that it previously made the decision to go cashless due to numerous factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including: attempting to protect staff from exposure to bacteria; a shortage of change availability from banks to small businesses; the desire for faster checkout times to limit exposure; and more.
“To address the concerns of underprivileged customers, we were simply giving out products for free to whoever couldn’t afford them or didn’t have cash,” Patel told DCN. “Having said that, we completely respect the law and decided to accept cash, not as a result of the fine, but as a result of just our customer preferences.”
While there is no federal law requiring cash acceptance, New Jersey is one of just three states that require it after passing the NJ Consumer Fraud Act in 2020. Colorado passed a similar bill in 2021, and Massachusetts has required cash acceptance since 1978. Meanwhile, multiple U.S. cities — including San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia — have passed laws requiring the acceptance of cash.
“New Jersey consumers deserve to know exactly how much they will be paying when they go to a store and be able to pay however they can,” New Jersey AG Platkin said in an announcement of the alleged violations. “Many consumers from underrepresented communities do not have access to bank accounts or credit cards. Laws requiring businesses to accept cash protect those consumers and ensure social equity in stores throughout the state.”
Hidden Grounds Coffee opened its first coffee shop in New Brunswick in 2013 and has since grown to six retail locations throughout the area, including shops in Hoboken and Jersey City.
According to the AG’s office, the business agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2,000 to resolve the alleged violations, while also agreeing to accept cash, minimize inconveniences for cash-paying customers and distribute a summary of the consent order to the chain’s retail managers.
“Coming out of COVID, it was an extremely uncertain time,” said Hidden Grounds’ Patel. “Coffee shops like ours had to figure out a way to deal with the yo-yo type of situations where we had to put our staff’s safety first, but had to deal with scale we’d never seen before.”
The state also issued notices of violation to two other coffee-serving businesses, Ronnie’s Hot Bagels in Hillsdale and Seymour’s Café in Clifton, which were accused of failing to disclose card surcharges before consumers ordered. Those businesses have been issued $500 fines.
The operator of a Ferris wheel at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford was fined $1,000 for requiring customers wishing to pay cash to purchase gift cards from another merchant that included surcharges.
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