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Many welcome departure of Canada's pesky penny

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Published : February 11th, 2013
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Category : Opinions and Analysis

By Tony Lofaro
Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

OTTAWA -- The penny is on the way out, and that's good news for people tired of dealing with the nuisance coin.

The Royal Canadian Mint stopped distributing pennies Monday after more than 150 years of production. But it was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who announced the penny's demise about a year ago, saying the cost of manufacturing a coin was actually 1.6 cents.

Some bank managers are welcoming the disappearance of the pesky coin from circulation.

"I'm not sad to see the penny go. I've been waiting for it to go for years," said Dominique Vallière, a branch manager at TD Canada Trust at Billings Bridge Plaza.

She said it became too cumbersome to roll up pennies brought in by customers. On the weekend more than a dozen customers brought in their pennies, figuring the currency was no longer legal tender, she said. In fact, the penny is still legal and will be for some time, she added.

She said an in-branch display of a big jar of pennies is "to make people aware" that the penny is still with us. But at banks, retail stores and other businesses where cash transactions occur, the landscape is changing.

Across the country now big and small merchants are beginning to round cash transactions to the nearest five-cent increment. For example, a $1.02 transaction would round down to $1, but a purchase of $1.03 would round up to $1.05.

The owner of the International News store at Billings Bridge Plaza said he started phasing in the new system a few weeks ago to familiarize customers.

So far customers are understanding and he hasn't had any problems with the system, said the owner. He said he doesn't mind saying goodbye to the penny, adding it's a "hassle" adjusting the cash register to the new rounding system.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said its outlets will continue to distribute pennies when cash is owed to customers.

"When the pennies are not available on cash owed, we will round up or down using the government recommended guideline," said public affairs spokeswoman Louisa Girotti.

Home Depot stores are rounding down to the nearest nickel on cash purchases by customers.

"It's going to be automatic at the point-of-sale machines and self-checkouts and it will be a very easy and smooth transition," said spokeswoman Erika Botond.

She said the "rounding down" is the right thing to do and fairer for customers, and the feedback from store owners so far is that it's been a positive experience. She said customers will see a new line item on their bill showing what they saved under the new system.

Ilse Mitchell remembers saving "German pennies" when she was a young girl.

"I had a big metal box and once a week my father would take me to the bank with the money I had saved during the week," said Mitchell, sipping a coffee at Billings Bridge Plaza. "That's how I learned to save and I still do it."

Mitchell said she learned the value of money as a young girl and it is important to instil that in young people today.

"I still will pick up a penny if I see one on the floor," she said, adding that most people wouldn't bother.

She said she feels nostalgic about the demise of the penny in today's cashless society.

"I will keep a few pennies in an old wallet because I know today is the last day" for distribution, she said.

* * *

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