Dozens of local fitness centers are actively breaking Philadelphia law by violating the city’s ban on cashless stores.
In effect since Oct. 1, the cashless ban requires all retail operators in the city to accept cash in exchange for their goods and services. The goal is to make businesses more inclusive; there’s lots of research showing people with lower incomes are less likely to have a bank account, much less a credit card.
What about fitness centers, then? Several gyms, including Planet Fitness and the Philadelphia Sports Clubs, require a bank account, debit card or credit card on file for membership.
The policy stands in stark violation of the new city ordinance, but the companies seem to be confused about the parameters of the law — which was even delayed three months in order to better spread the word.
“We can confirm that Planet Fitness is exempt from Philadelphia’s ban on cashless businesses,” Planet Fitness spokesperson Becky Zirlen said in an emailed statement.
Um, no. In Section 8.4 (d), the law clearly states: “This exclusion does not apply to memberships at service providers such as fitness clubs.”
The city also confirmed this to Billy Penn.
“Any retail transaction conducted in person that is not specifically excluded in the law is required to accept cash, ” said Rachel Hooper, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “Gym memberships…were not excluded.”
No enforcement till someone complains
Each transgression of Philly’s cashless ban is theoretically punishable by a fine up to $2,000.
“I felt discriminated against, like my money isn’t good enough at your establishment,” someone wrote to Planet Fitness last year after the company first went cashless.
But in Philly, even if the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is aware of a violation, it can’t take action without a formal complaint, Hooper said.
And since the law went into effect a little over a month ago, not a single person has submitted one. (How do you do that? Call PCHR at (215) 686-4670 or email them at PCHR@phila.gov.)
Of the handful of gyms Billy Penn surveyed, at least five brands are in violation.
Billy Penn reached out to all five for comment. Only Planet Fitness and Sweat Fitness responded. A Sweat spokesperson noted its locations do accept cash for day passes and short-term memberships. But that’s still against the law, Hooper confirmed.
The gyms in violation:
- Planet Fitness (13 Philadelphia locations) will not accept cash at all. Even if you buy a water bottle in the store, you’ve got to charge it to your bank account on file.
- City Fitness (6 locations) will accept cash — but you need to have a card on file for a recurring membership.
- Sweat Fitness (6 locations) will accept cash — but you need to have a card on file for a recurring membership.
- Philadelphia Sports Clubs (3 locations) will accept cash — but you need to have a card on file for a recurring membership.
- Retro Fitness (1 location) will accept cash for your enrollment fee and first month’s payment — but you need to have a bank account on file for recurring payments.
To be clear, some membership-model businesses are allowed to turn down cash payments. Those that complete the entirety of their transactions over the phone or online, for example, are exempt. Same with memberships at “wholesale clubs” like Costco and BJ’s.
But fitness centers are decidedly not offered an exemption — and some Philly chains are in compliance.
Both OrangeTheory and Fearless Athletics will accept cash. The latter said they prefer having a card on file, but won’t turn you away if you only offer paper money.