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How elotes and tamales keep a cashless society at bay

Friday, June 30, 2017

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Company: ATM Industry Association

[caption id="attachment_931" align="aligncenter" width="640"] One of the many murals located in Pilsen that celebrate the neighborhood's Mexican vibe.[/caption]

By Will Hernandez

Once the summer hits in Chicago, street food cart vendors are not hard to find in the Mexican-dominated Pilsen neighborhood.

You notice them by the 18th Street Pink Line stop. They're scattered around the perimeter of Harrison Park, a staple in the neighborhood for decades.

Most vendors sell the same kinds of foods. Elotes, which is grilled Mexican street corn served with an array of condiments mixed into a creamy concoction, and tamales are the most popular items.

And if you want dessert, it's not hard to find a "paleta man" pushing a cart filled with ice cream bars and ice cream sandwiches.

But in a world that continues to go more digital and mobile, there's only one way to pay for a tasty treat from these hard working vendors: cash.

No one uses Square to accept a credit card. Not one vendor is asking you to Venmo them for a tamale. In fact, some of them still use flip phones. It's truly amazing to see in this smartphone-dominated world.

Pilsen is one example of the many anomalies when it comes to the digital discussion because as long as street vendors are in business in this kind of a neighborhood, cashless society talk is a moot point.

Yes, that's an exaggeration to some extent. But a look at these street vendors tells a story about an aspect cashless society chatter that doesn't get discussed enough: the 10 million households in the U.S. that are unbanked (and millions more worldwide).

And we can take it a bit deeper. Despite a neighborhood that houses branches from Bank of America, BMO, Byline Bank and Wintrust, cash is still king at many businesses despite credit card acceptance. It's not uncommon to see a line 10 people deep at Bank of America waiting to withdraw cash from the two ATMs in the lobby.

Until the business operations of a street vendor in Pilsen are addressed to push the digital future forward, the idea of a true cashless society is a pipe dream at best.

Flickr photo. 

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