Sorry, cash only at these Martha’s Vineyard eateries

No plastic allowed at Porto Pizza. — Photo by Michael Cummo

I’m not a cash carrier. I find my funds flutter away much more quickly if they are withdrawn from my bank account in paper form. $20s quickly transform into $1s which fade away into lost poker games and eaten chocolate bars until my wallet is empty again anyway, so why fill it with cash to begin with? Because so many businesses on Martha’s Vineyard are cash only.

%&*$!@! is the sound I make in my head when I walk into a cash only business, forgetting I must hit an ATM before I can get a coffee or a slice of pizza. %&*$!@! is the sound many tourists make out-loud when they are tired and hungry, have just traveled for hours, are holding five pizzas and a squirming monkey in a poopy diaper, and NO they do not have any cash and NO they do not want to go find the nearest ATM. It’s a real pain in the %&*$!@!. So why do businesses bother?

There’s money saving to consider: businesses are required to pay a transaction fee for plastic, which can range from 1 to 6 percent of a purchase. Several businesses I spoke with, including Mocha Mott’s, Giordano’s, Porto Pizza, and Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, cited this charge as a deterrent for adopting card readers. All four managers and owners said the cash only policy was “simpler.” But it goes beyond that. Jirka Pavelka, owner of Porto Pizza, said he is trying to find a provider for his business to accept cards, but the service and the equipment are proving costly. “Different cards have different fees,” he said. “It’s an expensive process that we’re trying to find the best solution to.”

Carl Giordano, of Giordano’s Restaurant in Oak Bluffs, has been on both sides of a cash only business. While the take-out window of Gio’s is still cash only, the dining room section of the restaurant began accepting cards three years ago. “We’re trying to maintain an inexpensive family atmosphere,” Mr. Giordano said. “And we’re a seasonal business. In the dining room, when we began accepting cards, the extra percentage meant we had to raise our food prices. We already have the extra costs, being an Island, of food shipping, plus a town-imposed Oak Bluffs meal tax. I wouldn’t want to have to raise the cost of a slice of pizza any more.”

The hope is that some of those costs might be matched by customers spending more money paying with a debit or credit card. “Maybe they’re buying another bottle of wine that they wouldn’t have if they only had cash,” said Mr. Giordano, admitting that the cash only policy in the dining room might have deterred some customers, or limited their spending.

“The takeout window is a different animal,” Mr. Giordano said. His main reason for staying cash only at the takeout window is time saving. The line gets so busy, he said, that if everyone paid with a card, the printing and signing of receipts would inhibit the line from moving steadily.

Steady lines keep happy customers. But what about customers who find themselves lacking in cash? “It definitely annoys them,” said Kate Merges, a manager at Ben and Bill’s, “but I’ve never had a really horrible experience.”

“There’s so many ATMs near these cash only businesses, especially on Main Street and Circuit Ave., that most people don’t find it to be a huge deal,” said Laura Gilman, a manager at Mocha Mott’s. Although some might argue that ATM fees can easily turn a $2 purchase into a $5 purchase for the customer.

Still, the cash only model remains popular among small businesses. It minimizes bookkeeping, prevents fraud, and allows businesses to receive payment on the spot without waiting for transactions to process. And, of course, the tip jar is more likely to fill up when folks receive change in cash.

But anyone who has seen the line spill out into the street from a cash only Circuit Avenue sandwich spot knows that even “small” businesses on the Vineyard don’t feel so small in the summertime. Perhaps it’s time businesses find an easier solution than memorizing directions to the nearest ATM.

Finding a solution

There’s a lot of ways for small businesses, even start-ups, to work around the cash-only dilemma. Nat’s Nook and Not Your Sugar Mamas in Vineyard Haven, for instance, have adopted card swiping systems that require little more than an iPad. The technology is constantly evolving. Cash-only businesses can even accept payment online and via mobile phones with tools like PayNearMe andElavon.

Let me be clear: I love many of these cash-only businesses. They are staples of our community and serve delicious food and drink. Card reader or no, I can’t imagine an Island without homefries at Dock Street, the buffalo chicken at Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches, ice cream at Mad Martha’s, pizza at Fella’s, La Choza burritos, or a Menemsha picnic from The Bite. Even the dance floor level of The Lampost requires cash. Personally, I think the walk to an ATM is worthwhile if it means getting delicious food or drink from one of these spots. But once in a while, a little food for thought is a healthy addition to any diet.

In the meantime, since we love our cash-only businesses so much, here’s a handy map to show you where you can find an ATM before you order.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Menemsha Galley only takes cash. The popular eatery and ice cream stop with the million dollar harbor view also takes credit cards.