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.