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NYC Fines Upscale Ice Cream Shop Van Leeuwen for Violating Cashless Ban

The fancy ice cream purveyor was charged with 17 violations of the law in 2021

People wait in line outside Van Leeuwen Ice Cream on the Upper West Side. 
Van Leeuwen on the Upper West Side.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Van Leeuwen’s cashless days appear to be over. The fancy, minimalist ice cream purveyor has been ordered to pay over $12,000 in fines for not equipping its various NYC stores to accept cash, violating the city’s recently-enacted ban on cashless businesses.

According to a representative for NYC’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the city received six consumer complaints about Van Leeuwen’s cashless stores after legislation banning the practice went into effect in November 2020. The department then issued Van Leeuwen a cease-and-desist letter, but says that didn’t stop the company from continuing to violate the law. In October, the city charged the ice cream shop with 17 violations of the cashless ban and penalized the company with $12,750 in fines.

Van Leeuwen — which started as an NYC-based food truck in 2008 and now runs over 20 shops in multiple states, and also sold the popular Kraft mac-and-cheese flavored ice cream this summer — did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Eater on the fines.

NYC’s City Council passed legislation banning cashless businesses from operating in the city in January 2020, citing the discriminatory nature of the practice. Nine months later, during a time when many businesses were operating cashless due to health concerns amid the pandemic, the ban went into effect. The city has received 128 complaints and issued 21 violations of the cashless ban since enforcement of the law began.

Approximately 301,700 households in NYC, or 9.4 percent of the city’s population, don’t have bank accounts, according to Department of Consumer and Worker Protection data from July 2021, and cannot easily shop at places that don’t accept cash. The majority of the city’s residents who don’t have bank accounts are people of color who live in lower-income neighborhoods without ready access to local banks.

“Cashless businesses isolate the more than 300,000 unbanked households in NYC from making transactions, as well as those who simply choose not to use plastic,” Department of Consumer and Worker Protection commissioner Peter Hatch said in a statement. “This decision is a win for all of us and it ensures that we are all included, regardless of how we choose to pay.”

Other cities and states across the country including Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New Jersey have also recently instituted bans on cashless businesses. Massachusetts hasn’t allowed cashless businesses to operate in the state since 1978.