Benefits, burdens of going cashless: Business owners, experts weigh in

Over the last seven decades, very little has changed at Leon’s Custard in Milwaukee.

"If it’s not broken why fool with it?" said owner Ron Schneider, "A lot of people think making a change is progress. Not necessarily."

The building was last renovated in 1955. Some of the machines are the same ones owner Ron Schneider used when he first started working at Leon’s at age 14. 

Leon's Frozen Custard, Milwaukee

Leon's Frozen Custard, Milwaukee

However, in the last year, there has been a shift. Leon’s started accepting credit cards. 

"I use a credit card more than I used to. It’s OK I guess," said Schneider.

After 78 years of only accepting cash, Leon’s made the switch the same year many businesses stopped accepting cash altogether. 

When Summerfest returns Thursday, Sept. 2, the entire grounds will be card only. 

"For us, it really represents an opportunity for us to limit contact and allow patrons to use their own card," said Sarah Pancheri, Milwaukee World Festival Chief Operating Officer. 

Sarah Pancheri

Sarah Pancheri

Summerfest will have eight machines that charge no fee to turn cash into a payment card. 

"Hopefully it’s more convenient for our customers, and they are able to enjoy it," Pancheri said.

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Kent Belasco is the director of the commercial banking program at Marquette University. He believes the "cashless" trend is here to stay. 

"It’s a movement. It’s going in that direction," Belasco said.

Kent Belasco

Kent Belasco

Belasco said while there are a lot of pluses for plastic payment, completely eliminating cash can put the economy at risk. 

"The biggest downside is think of this in a big way if cash isn’t used that much or in a limited way, and everyone is relying on the technology, what happens if you have problems with the technology?" said Belasco. 

At Leon’s, Schneider said credit cards help move the line a little quicker on a busy night. He has also found people who pay with card seem to be more willing to spend extra money. 

"When you take credit cards, customers tend to spend more money simply because it’s just a number -- it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Cash in your hand, yeah you can feel that, touch it, smell it, count it, you name it," Schneider said.

Ron Schneider

Ron Schneider

 Many customers still pay with cash at Leon’s. Schneider has no plans to become cashless anytime soon. 

"I don’t understand why you go outside without some money. I mean there’s some problems only money is going to fix," Schneider said.

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Belasco agrees – cash changing hands is important to keep around.

"As long as there is movement, then people are still transacting business. If that doesn’t happen and people pull back from that, that will impact the economy," Belasco said.

It may be uncertain how the economy will shape up post-pandemic. However, one thing is clear. A scoop of custard at Leon’s should taste the same as it did in 1942.

"I’m very careful about changes of any kind because there’s unintended consequences," Schneider said.

Summerfest organizers say they will see how this year goes before making a decision on whether cash ever comes back.  

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