By Adam Rogan | Journal Times

“Do you have any quarters?” Jim Wuerker asks. He needs those little 25-cent pieces. Badly.

“I’m desperate to get quarters right now,” said Wuerker, who owns Quarry Laundromat, 3618 Northwestern Ave. “My company runs on quarters.”

There’s a nationwide coin shortage caused by (you guessed it) the coronavirus pandemic. Many department stores and grocery stores have ceased providing coins as change to hold onto the coins they have left.

On Tuesday, the Pick ‘n Save at 5111 Douglas Ave., Caledonia, was still giving out change. But starting today, the manager said, they wouldn’t be giving out change anymore.

Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly, 5201 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant, is still giving out change for purchases, but coin rolls are no longer being sold.

Some Walmarts across the U.S. have stopped giving out change, but the SuperCenter at 3049 S. Oakes Road, Mount Pleasant, is still giving out pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It will continue to do so until told otherwise, a manager told The Journal Times.

In a statement, Johnson Financial Group Regional President Karla Krehbiel said “At Johnson Financial Group, we are actively working with our clients and cash providers — similar to what all financial companies are doing today. At this time, we have been able to meet our clients’ needs in a sufficient time frame that hasn’t disrupted their business. All business clients are aware of the shortage and understand we need to work together. We have associates focused on coin inventory for JFG, providing daily updates so we can stay ahead of our clients’ needs.”

Adapting businesses

The lack of coins has not been a game-changing issue for most customers at these chains. Kroger, which owns Pick ‘n Save, says that the cents of change owed to customers can be uploaded onto loyalty cards and would be automatically used on that customer’s next purchase.

But for laundromats like Wuerker’s, the lack of change poses a big problem.

His laundromat is entirely coin-operated. He has a change machine in the building, and he checks to see how empty it is every couple hours when he stops by to clean. If it remains tough to get coins for the next few weeks, he might be out of luck.

The problem isn’t only that there are fewer coins in circulation right now. Wuerker said he can’t get his hands on any coins from banks. He’s tried going to several banks, even ones at which he doesn’t have an account, to get coins; only one has given him any, and that was a one-time offer, he said.

Many banks have their lobbies closed to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. And ATMs only give out paper currency. No coins.

“None of the money institutions will sell them to you,” Wuerker said.

The lack of coin is creating problems for restaurants and gas stations, too, said Katie Stolt, retail operations manager for Union Grove-headquartered Community State Bank, since so many of those businesses are cash-based.

Community State Bank, which has seven locations in southeast Wisconsin, still has its lobbies open, but isn’t offering coins in exchange for cash because of the shortage, Stolt said.

Two weeks ago, Wuerker said, he happened to explain this problem to a friend who is a bartender. That bartender happened to have a cache of coins, and Wuerker was able to buy $200 worth of quarters from his friend to restock his Quarry Laundromat.

Wuerker is on the lookout for the next opportunity to turn cash into coin. If he can’t find one, he expects he will lose business to the other laundromats in town.

“It sucks,” he said.

What caused it?

The shortage, the Federal Reserve has reported, has come about because the pandemic “disrupted the supply chain” for materials and also messed up “normal circulation patterns for U.S. coin.”

As the Fed moved to replenish its coin inventory, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told Congress’s Financial Services Committee on June 17 that it still won’t be enough to solve the shortage in the short term.

“What has happened is, with the partial closure of the economy, the flow of coins through the economy has … kind of stopped. The places where you’d go to give your coins and get credit … those have not been working,” Powell said. “So, a whole system of flow has kind of come to a stop. We’re well aware of this. We’re working with the Mint, and we’re working with the reserve banks and, as the economy reopens, we’re seeing coins begin to move around again.”