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There’s a Coin Shortage in America and It’s Hitting One Local Laundromat Owner Hard

Aanen Trelstad owns two coin-operated laundromats and he struggles to find enough quarters to keep them running.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Remember the toilet paper shortage? Thankfully, it's over, but a shortage of another staple persists: coins.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. Mint cut back operations, like so many businesses did. Worse yet, people stopped buying things, and when they started again, they used credit cards and electronic payments, keeping their cash and coins out of circulation. Then, as more stores and businesses reopened, there weren't enough coins to make change.

Few have felt the squeeze more than Aanen Trelstad. He owns two coin-operated laundromats—the Hyland Eco Laundry in Beaverton and the Hood Coin Laundry in Gresham—and he struggles to find enough quarters to keep them running. Before COVID-19, he used to buy up to $1,000 a week in quarters. Now his bank is tapped out.

So he's taken extreme measures, calling on friends and family.

"It's amazing how many people have a pickle jar and have been collecting coins for the last 20 years," Trelstad says. "I'm hitting all of them up."

His biggest haul so far? His cousin Brooke's 3-foot-tall commemorative Heineken bottle. It has yielded 2,000 quarters, or $500, and she's only halfway through it.

"This is not sustainable," Trelstad says. "I can't keep hitting up my neighborhood for quarters."

The biggest problem for Trelstad is that people are at home more, so they are using the machines in their apartment complexes instead of going to the laundromat, even though the machines are slow and, oftentimes, crappy. But they come get quarters out of his change machines.

"I'm losing $600 to $800 in quarters a week," Trelstad says. "My quarter capacity has dropped by that much, which means it's hard to keep up."

See more Distant Voices interviews here.