"We make change for customers only…" Bad business … bad society?

“We make change for customers only…” Bad business … bad society?

I had to take the light rail today from Newton Center back into Boston. Newton Center’s small subway depot has since become a chain coffee store. Although this subway stop requires an unusually large amount of change for a single trip ($2.50), the cash register proudly proclaims, “No change for subway customers.”

I guess I just don’t understand the business rationale. Most retail businesses would kill for an entire community’s worth of foot traffic each day. You want change for the subway? Sure! Just wait by our warm, delicious impulse-buy products and we’ll make change once you’re at the register.

Maybe the store is afraid it will be hard to supply the change. How hard is it, really? They get change regularly from the bank for their register. Next time, just stock up on quarters. It really isn’t that much additional trouble. Two additional customers a day (at gourmet-coffee prices) would pay for a part-time employee whose sole job is to do the subway change run every morning.

But to me, there’s a deeper issue: it’s one of community and friendliness. When a store only gives change to purchasers, neighborhood residents and regular travelers won’t stop in. That means they won’t interact, and that much more community gets lost in the race to make Economic Decisions the Be-all and End-all of our existence.

Why not give change because it’s a nice thing to do? Because it’s the only way for your clerks, who must work 60 hours a week to pay their rent, to meet other people from the neighborhood face-to-face.

It’s the little courtesies, the little interactions, and the smiles as we join each other in our daily business that tie us together as a community. Between our walkmans, net connections, and other “time saving” devices, we’ve eliminated much of the casual communing people once enjoyed. Rather than hanging signs rejecting our community members if they won’t buy from us, why not seek to build a community where people like each other so much they want to do business?

Just a thought…

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