Nova Scotia

Pennies not welcome at Halifax java shop

A cafe in Halifax has taken a Canada-wide proposal into its own hands and declared itself a Penny Free Zone.

One-cent coins no longer accepted as tender at Just Us cafe

A cafe in Halifax has taken a Canada-wide proposal into its own hands and declared itself a "Penny Free Zone."

Just Us! Coffee Roaster Co-op on Spring Garden Road began rounding off its prices two months ago to reduce the number of pennies in the till.

The cafe was amassing thousands of pennies this winter after the GST was reduced and prices required one-cent coins to make exact change, said manager Ned Zimmerman.

"If you look at the amount of money you pay someone per hour, the amount of time it takes to fuss around with all those, then it really doesn't add up," he said.

"It became clear to us that the amount of time we spent taking care of pennies wasn't valuable in the long run," he said.

The cafe's policy comes after a private-member's bill suggesting abolishing the penny was introduced in Parliament in April, sparking debate about the copper coin across the country.

Prices rounded up, rounded down

The key to keeping customers happy is to round up the price as often as it is rounded down, Zimmerman said. 

"Peoples' biggest concern with the idea of eliminating the penny is that businesses will just round everything up, and gouge them on every purchase they make," he said.

"We are very clear about the fact that we round up or down, no matter what the situation — we'll round down if it's meant to be rounded down, and really, it ends up balancing out."

The cafe's rounding system adjusts prices to the nearest five cents.

A coffee that comes to $1.32 would have the customer pay $1.30, while a muffin that costs $1.73 would see the customer shell out the extra two cents.

Debit and credit card purchases aren't rounded.

Customer Sarah Nussbaumer paid $3.95 for her order last week, even though it was rung up as $3.94 on the register. The discrepancy made no difference to her because she said she's "no so much a big fan of pennies anyways."

"To be honest, at the end of the day, I have to take all the change out of my wallet, and without pennies around, there would just be less weight."

"People have responded really well to it," Zimmerman said.

"The cashes haven't been affected one way or another," he added. "If it continues to go well, you'll probably see [this policy] in our other cafes too."

Penny's demise inevitable, says NDP MP

NDP MP Pat Martin, who introduced the penny-banishing bill, said the coffee shop is the first store he's heard of that has done away with the coin.

"I think we've triggered an irreversible shift towards abolishing the penny," said Martin of his campaign. "But I don't blame the local retailer for losing patience and unilaterally taking action."

Since Martin introduced Bill C-531, it has moved on to the standing committee on finance. But a spokesman said the committee probably won't be dealing with the issue before Christmas.

"I don't expect to deal with that in the near future," said Jean-Francois Page.

In April, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said getting rid of the penny wasn't a priority.

Leading study recommends wiping out pennies

A 2007 study by Quebec finance company Desjardins Group said  the penny has little purchasing power and suggested the federal government consider removing it from circulation.

Desjardins said keeping the penny in circulation costs about $130 million annually.

Jean-Pierre Aubrey, an economic consultant in the study, said Desjardins estimates it costs about 1.5 cents to produce one penny, from the production stages to materials and delivery.

With the Royal Canadian Mint pumping out about 760 million one-cent coins a year, Aubrey said pennies are a money pit.

"The reason there are so many is because the penny is not used," Aubrey said.

"Consumers put them in buckets in their houses."

In a fall 2007 study, the Mint said a majority of small retailers were in favour of abandoning the penny, while consumers were split.

Penny still has symbolic value

Aubrey said he sees the obstacles standing in the way of abolishing the penny as political.

"There are still some people here and there that want to keep the penny as a symbol of heritage and the past. The government doesn't want to put these people against them," Aubrey said.

Amid threats of a fall election, Martin said going to the polls would mean starting over for his penny campaign.

With files from the Canadian Press