The coronavirus pandemic caused a bit of a disruption in the availability of coins and for one Alexandria business owner, it put a dent in his business.

Lawrence Keenan, who owns Nokomis Coin Laundry in Alexandria, said his business was seriously impacted.

Earlier this year, Keenan said he was receiving constant complaints that his coin exchange machines were out of quarters. Eventually, he had to post signs saying that the machines were for customers only. And a couple different times Keenan had to shut down his machines because he was out of quarters.

“It was a huge impact and extremely frustrating,” he said. “I felt bad for my regular customers because I was out of quarters.”

According to local banks, the issue isn’t so much a coin shortage as it is a circulation issue.

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“There isn’t really a shortage of coin, as there are plenty of coins,” said Mark Grandgenett, president of Viking Bank. “The real problem is the disruption in the circulation.The coin just simply wasn’t getting out in circulation like it normally would through normal retail channels.”

Del Mari Runck, chief operating officer of Neighborhood National Bank, agrees.

“There was not a significant coin ‘shortage,’ but rather an issue with coin ‘circulation’ due to COVID-19 disrupting the flow of coins in the 128 million households in the U.S. who were not using coins in their daily purchases and therefore not circulating coin,” said Runck.

Early on and still now, Runck said many consumers across the country started using their debit or credit cards more for payment to avoid the risk of contracting the coronavirus through touching cash and coins.

Because of the initial stay-at-home order, cash and coins were not used on a daily basis, therefore coins were not being circulated, she said.

Keenan noted that he never had trouble getting quarters from the banks. He typically doesn’t get much from them anyway because normally, those who get quarters from him turn around and put them right back in the washers and dryers.

He just recycles the quarters so he usually never runs out. However, his coin machines did run out because people were just coming in and getting the quarters without putting them back into his machines.

In early June, banks were notified by the Federal Reserve that coin orders would be limited and allocated based on the size of the bank. This forced banks to reduce the amount of coins they were able to supply to their business customers, Runck said.

There was also a less significant impact on the availability of coins due to reductions of coin production at the U.S. Mint based on COVID-19 measures implemented to protect the safety of their employees, she said.

Where are the quarters?

Earlier this year while on vacation, Keenan was notified that his system was down and had to contact his technician to take a look at it.

It got repaired and was loaded up ready for use. However, after just two days, the machine was out of quarters. Keenan said he couldn’t believe it because it should have lasted a whole week.

“People were coming in, putting their cash in to get quarters and leaving,” said Keenan.

This is why he had to post the signs that the change machines were for customers only.

Despite his efforts in posting signs all over the laundromat, Keenan said people were still coming in to cash in their bills for quarters.

He saw on his video surveillance tape one time where a man came in and put three $20 bills into the machine and took all the quarters and left.

While at the laundromat on a couple of different occasions, he even confronted people who were getting quarters from his machine, letting them know that the machines were for those doing laundry. Two different people said they had to go and get their laundry and then took off in their vehicles – with their quarters.

“The biggest question is why?” said Keenan. “Where are all the quarters going? I was stunned at the number of people who put their money in, got quarters and then left.”

But, Keenan said there are some good people out there, too. He has been contacted twice by people who received more quarters than they should have – by quite a lot – so that they could return them to him.

“Despite it all, there really are some really neat people out there,” he said.

Bring your coins in

Grandgenett said Viking Bank was not really impacted by the coin issue and that its customers didn’t see a big impact either.

“The Federal Reserve was limiting the amount of coins that we could purchase per order, however we have already begun to see those restrictions ease,” said Grandgenett. “This never caused a hardship for us or our customers, as we are very fortunate to have a self-serve coin-counting machine in our bank lobby.”

He said Viking Bank customers, as well as those who are not customers (a fee will be charged), are able to go into the bank and dump their coins into the machine and exchange their coins for paper currency.

“It is very popular with our clients,” he said.

Runck said that some businesses were unable to accept cash payments due to the inability to provide change back and because banks had limits on coin orders, it made it difficult.

However, in the middle of July, the Federal Reserve increased the coin order limits back to more normal levels and many businesses are now open, meaning more coins are being circulated.

Runck added, though, that the most important thing customers can do is to bring the coins they may have been saving at home into their banks. She said it could have a significant impact on eliminating the circulation issue.