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James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Jul 14 14:39:40 UTC 2002

In a message dated 07/13/2002 10:09:12 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET writes:

> I am struck by the relatively recent
>  practice in the US (elsewhere, too?) of small convenience stores and
>  restaurants having a penny tray at the cash register, where one can leave
>  take a penny or two to make exact change.  Some of these say on them "Give
>  penny, take a penny", but I don't know if there is one term to apply to
>  practice.  I did not notice this practice in my youth or early adulthood
>  (I'm 51), but it seems quite widespread now (though not in large chain
>  stores).

I refer to the little trays as "penny buckets".

My impression is that the practice appeared and became widespread very
suddenly.  When?  Perhaps early 1980's.  I recall an occasion, I think early
80's but I'm not sure, when I stopped in a rural Pennsylvania village on the
first day of hunting season.  (On the way I had seen no less than four
road-kill deer, so this particular hunting season was overdue.)  I recall in
some store (probably a mini-grocery attached to a gas station) there was a
penny bucket with a sign on it reading "Need a penny?  Take a penny?  Nedd
two pennies?  Get a job."

I wonder if 7-11 or some other nationwide chain decided that having penny
buckets, as well as being a for-real convenience to its customers, would also
add a nice homey touch to their check-out counters.  This guess, if correct,
would explain why the practice, previously unknown, blossomed so widely so

The cafeteria where I work (which I imagine sells 1,000 lunches per day) has
three cashiers and each one has a penny bucket, a policy which, if I remember
correctly, began when new management took over a couple of years ago and make
a big fuss about how friendly their employees were.

Large stores with multiple checkout lines such as Safeway, Super-Fresh,
K-mart, Walmart, etc. do not use penny buckets for a reason.  In such stores
each cashier, when reporting to a cash register, is issued a cash drawer with
a standard amount of cash in it.  That way if a customer ever complains of
being shortchanged, the manager simply counts the cash in the cash drawer,
checks the computerized register for the amount taken in since the cashier
logged on, adds the standard issued amount, and then answers the customer yes
or no based on whether a discrepancy is found.  Use of a penny bucket would
make for small errors in the reconciliation, enough perhaps to make it
impossible to determine if a customer's complaint were correct, since it is
common to feed the penny bucket from the penny bin in the cash register tray
whenever it gets low.

In a convenience store the cashiers do not log in---there are long gaps
sometimes between customers, and whichever employee is nearest the checkout
counter when a customer is ready becomes the cashier.  Also in a large
multi-checkout-line store, if a cashier runs low on pennies, s/he simply
"buys" a roll from the manager.  In a 7-11 or similar store, it is not
uncommon for the register to run low on x denomination of coins, and there is
no central cash source to buy rolls of coins from.  If the register runs out
of pennies, the penny bucket comes in handy (or else the cashier simply
forgives the pennies beyond 5 or 10 cents).

 -Jim Landau
  FAA Technical Center (ACB-510/BCI)
  Atlantic City Int'l Airport NJ 08405 USA

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