In addition to the worldwide health and economic tribulations, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a shortage of coinage in the United States that has left many quite literally short-changed. 

Laundromats, fast food restaurants, currency exchanges and grocery stores in western suburbs have all felt the strain of the limited availability of change.

“There is an adequate amount of coins in the economy, but the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed,” reads a July 23 press release from the U.S. Mint. 

Precautions to slow COVID-19’s spread have decreased retail sales activity and substantially reduced deposits from third-party coin processors, which account for the majority of coins put into circulation, according to the U.S. Mint.

In the meantime, businesses are continuing to operate as normally as possible with the limited supply of change in their cash registers, hanging signs in the windows directing customers to pay in exact change or to use alternative payment methods.

Brookfield Currency Exchange, 9450 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield, has started rationing its coinage, according to manager Louis, who declined to give his last name.

“We’re rationing people to two rolls of whatever coins we have, because we don’t have any extra,” said Louis. “We’re limited as to what we can have.”

The currency exchange has experienced an uptick in customers looking for change.

“After you turn them down once or twice, they don’t really come back anymore,” said Louis.

While it has enough coins to operate and give change to people who cash checks, Brookfield Currency Exchange can no longer sell coins to customers as it had before the shortage.

“We don’t have a problem because we have enough coin amongst us, but we just can’t sell it to the customers like we do sometimes,” Louis said.

The 7-Eleven location at 7749 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park has a sign posted on the front door that reads: “Dear Customers, due to a shortage at the federal reserve, we are very short on coins. Please consider paying in exact change or using a debit/credit card. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Sawmilly Sandwich Shoppe in Riverside is among the businesses that have not faced any problems due to the coin shortage.

“I’ve heard some of the rumblings about it, but our bank has not notified us or said there was anything we needed to handle differently,” said Scott Zimmer, owner of Sawmilly, 35 E. Burlington St.

Sawmilly still accepts cash payments for orders, but Zimmer said most customers prefer to use credit or debit cards.

“I think a lot of people are quite honestly more comfortable using a credit card, and a lot of people prefer to give credit cards over the phone rather than hand them over,” Zimmer said.

Askale Phillips, co-owner ofMaywood’s Kingston Market Caribbean & African Groceries at 1401 S. 5th Ave., said she had to go to her local currency exchange to source coin for the family-run grocery store. 

“I was able to get quarters, but I observed the cashier at the currency exchange telling a customer before me that she’s only allowed to sell one roll of quarters,” said Phillips.

The customer in front of her, Phillips said, was looking to buy more than one. Because of that, Phillips only asked for one roll.

Kingston Market has run out of quarters more than twice since the shortage started. Most recently, it ran out the weekend of July 25. 

Phillips thinks that people feel safer not using physical currency during COVID-19 because cash and coins have come into contact with innumerable hands over time. 

While Phillips said the shortage has affected the store “greatly,” it is not entirely cash-dependent and accepts Apple Pay, as well as credit and debit cards.

To restore coin circulation to a healthy state, the U.S. Mint asks citizens to spend their share of coins, deposit them in banks or exchange them for cash.