Alpine Modern doesn't want your money. Well, not your cash money.
After the New Year, you'll no longer be able to buy a breve latte with your wrinkled ones, nor will a handful of change get you a chai tea. The cafe is going cashless.
"Handling cash is kinda gross," said Alpine Modern co-founder Lon McGowan. "It slows everything down" for customers and staff. It creates a safety risk for potential robbery. From a business perspective, "it's an annoyance."
Many small businesses prefer cash to avoid the standard 3 percent fees that credit card companies charge on every purchase. But McGowan believes that expense is outweighed by the time and expense his employees spend on cash: counting the drawer every day, taking it to the bank once a week, and the occasional miscount leaves the company short a few dollars.
"We're not going to make or lose any more money," he said. "At the end of the day, all the positives outweigh" the frustrations.
His instincts are right on. Visa — which, it should be noted, has an obvious dog in the fight — claimed in a July 2017 report that businesses in New York City could save more than 186 million hours in labor and generate an additional $6.8 billion in revenue by switching to plastic-only payment.
The credit card company is offering $10,000 to small businesses willing to go cashless. Alpine Modern isn't one of them; McGowan said it was a natural move given how many of his customers have embraced a bill-free future.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of all Alpine Modern's transactions are cash; the rest are credit or debit. The Federal Reserve found that the number of noncash payments increased 5.3 percent annually from 2012 to 2015. Credit card company TSYS reported this year that 40 percent of Americans prefer to pay with credit, 35 percent opt for debit and 11 percent choose to pay with cash, with fondness for cash being strongest among those age 55-64.
Alpine Modern's customer skews younger and "more progressive," McGowan said, so he doesn't think it will be a big leap. It was one he wanted to make before a planned expansion of the brand. A third Boulder branch — the company also has a gift and home decor store at 1048 Pearl Street — is planned in the next twelve months, with the exact location still to be announced.
Beyond that, McGowan envisions Alpine Moderns across the Front Range. "We don't want to manage cash" across multiple locations, he said.
Of course, some Boulder businesses have gone the other way. Most notably, Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery and its many sister restaurants accept only cash. An in-house ATM dispenses dollars to patrons for a cool $1 fee. The brand has expanded multiple times: to south Boulder with Southern Sun and Under the Sun, to Denver with Vine Street Pub, and to Longmont with Longs Peak Pub.
The eateries famously provide "karma envelopes" for those without the means to withdraw cash, so payment can be sent in later. The arrangement is preferable to credit card fees, Managing Partner Paul Nashak told Westword in 2011. (Nashak did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
McGowan isn't quite sure how his patrons will respond. He believes Alpine Modern is the first business to go cashless in Boulder, though that's a hard claim to verify. But there are plenty of encouraging examples around the country and world.
Several New York restaurants have made the shift, industry publication Restaurant-Hospitality reported. And in Sweden, only 20 percent of all transactions in the country are cash.
"It's a bit of a test for Boulder," McGowan said. "Maybe we do it and there's a massive backlash."
More likely? It will be business as usual.