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Time to empty those coin jars and piggy banks? Some retailers struggle to make change with national coin shortage.

GREENSBORO — Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Seriously, can you? There’s a national coin shortage.

Some retailers across the country have had trouble making change for cash purchases.

One Chick-fil-A restaurant in Alabama offered a free meal to anyone who brought in $10 in rolled coins to exchange. Some retailers like Walmart, CVS and Starbucks are asking customers to pay with credit or debit cards. Others are requesting exact change.

Some are even asking customers to round up their purchase totals, with the balance going to a charity.

What’s the cause? Well, two things. The U.S. Mint halted production to keep workers safe when the pandemic started, so less coins were being issued. The other is people simply stopped making cash transactions because of concerns they might catch the coronavirus by touching other people’s money.

That translated to a shortage of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.

“It’s been hard to get change,” said Bramod “Peter” Dhakal, the owner of Chapel Mart at 1383 Lees Chapel Road in Greensboro.

Dhakal said that he has been consistently low on pennies and that the shortage has been going on for about two weeks. He said he has had to make an appointment with his bank to restock on coins.

Dhakal said he gets about 150 customers a day, most spending only a few bucks.

“We have a lot people who come in and spend two or three dollars,” he said.

Most of those purchases are for single items, like a cigar.

Brady Young, the chief retail officer with locally based Bank of Oak Ridge, said the Federal Reserve “limited the amount of coins we could order, but, honestly, that had no impact to us or our clients.”

The Federal Reserve said in a June statement that the COVID-19 pandemic “significantly disrupted” the supply chain and circulation patterns for U.S. coins. Fed officials responded by putting a temporary cap on coin orders from banks and other depository institutions to make sure the supply was distributed fairly. The Federal Reserve issued a warning last month about the coin shortage across the U.S. and set up a task force to tackle it.

The task force’s goal is to kick-start the coin circulation process, as the Mint can’t increase production to solve this particular problem, the Fed said its news release.

Coins already in circulation represent 80% of the supply, with the rest being new coins, the N.C. Bankers Association said in a news release.

“It’s not that we have a shortage of coins. It’s just sitting in our piggy banks or coin jars in our homes,” Peter Gwaltney, the president and chief executive officer of the N.C. Bankers Association said in the release.

A Federal Reserve campaign encourages employees to empty their coin jars and get them into circulation.

Signs asking for exact change have been seen at Bojangles’ and McDonald’s restaurants on Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem, and the Harris Teeter supermarket at Greensboro’s Friendly Center has posted signs at registers asking customers to round up their purchase. A Harris Teeter spokesperson said the extra money goes to a designated charity.

Some Food Lion grocery stores are also asking customers to use exact change.

“We have been impacted by the coin shortage. We’re asking customers to use exact change, or to use an alternate payment method such as a debit or credit card or Apple Pay,” said Emma A. Inman, Food Lion’s director of external communications.

Dhakal said he has noticed more card transactions since the pandemic started. He said only about 30% of his customers used to pay with a debit or credit card when he took over the shop a year ago. Now about 80% of them use a digital transaction, he said.

Many retailers and laundromat proprietors say they haven’t been affected by the shortage.

“I have heard about it, but we are not having any problems,” said Imsoon Yoon, the owner of West Market Street Laundromat.

Colleen Hodges, the owner of Feeney’s Frozen Yogurt shops in Greensboro and High Point, said she has had no problems making change at her Greensboro store, even though many of her customers are older and tend to pay with cash. An employee at Bestway market on Walker Avenue said the store has had no problems.

As the economy recovers and businesses reopen, more coins are expected to flow back into retail and banking channels and eventually into the Federal Reserve, which should rebuild coin inventories.

Brady and Dhakal said they expect the Federal Reserve to release more coins this week.

“I think the bank now, they are picking up coins,” Dhaka said.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Touching base: Baseball is a sport made for social distancing. Well, except at home plate. Page C3

N.C. governor: 'The refusal to wear a mask is selfish'; state to distribute face coverings, sanitizer to farmworkers

RALEIGH North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday again stressed the importance of wearing face masks in public spaces, with strong words for people who have refused to do so.

“For those who continue to defy basic decency and common sense because they refuse to wear a mask — either wear one or don’t go in the store,” Cooper said during a news conference. “The refusal to wear a mask is selfish. It infringes on the life and liberty of everyone else in the store.”

Cooper added that widespread mask use isn’t only vital in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 but could have rippling effects on the state.

“Not only is wearing a mask the decent, neighborly thing to do, it’s the best way to boost our economy,” he said.

Cooper’s office also announced that 900,000 masks, hand sanitizer and cloth face coverings are going to N.C. Cooperative Extension Service county centers for distribution to farms and agricultural operations.

“Agriculture is vital to our economy and our food supply,” Cooper said. “It’s a tough job you can’t do from home.”

Many Latino residents are employed as farmworkers or in meat-processing plants. While Latino residents account for less than 10% of the state’s population, they represent more than 43% of the people on the state who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Some of these supplies have been difficult for farmers to source as demand has exceeded supply,” N.C. Secretary of Agriculture Steve Troxler said in a news release. “I am grateful that farmworkers and farmers have been prioritized for these much-needed materials.’

Cooper’s news conference came as at least 102,861 people in North Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 1,668 have died, according to state health officials.

And the number of new cases and hospitalizations rose again Tuesday — after two days of declines — with a record high of 1,179 people hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Last week, Cooper announced that the state would remain in Phase Two of its reopening plan, delaying the planned move into Phase Three until at least Aug. 7.

Under Phase Two, salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Mass gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors, or 25 outside.

But Republican state legislators have argued that keeping businesses closed is hurting the state and have criticized Cooper for not reopening sooner. The Democratic governor has also vetoed a number of reopening bills that were passed by the legislature — including those to reopen gyms, bowling alleys and amusement parks.

Still, Cooper urged caution as the number of new cases continues to climb.

He said “the lack of a coordinated federal strategy” in resolving supply-chain problems is contributing to the testing backlog.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s secretary of health, expressed concern this month over “ballooning turnaround times” for commercial testing labs. The average turnaround time was approaching six to seven days — up from two to three days in June.

As coronavirus cases surge across the South and other parts of the country, an increase in testing demand has caused the slowdown at commercial labs, and other testing providers face supply shortages. The delay could have implications for contact-tracing efforts, experts said, making it harder to slow the spread of the coronavirus.