It’s not just on-campus dining locations or restaurants in downtown Elon that take phoenix cash. More than 50 local businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies and beauty salons accept it.
Elon University sophomore Julia Mercurio prefers to use phoenix cash over cash or a debit card. “You don’t have to use your own money because your parents put money on,” Mercurio said.
While not all Elon students have parents funding their phoenix card accounts, many agreed that they like using phoenix cash because of its convenience.
That convenience doesn't come without a cost to local businesses.
According to several community merchants, they need to pay more than $500 upfront to buy the machine that processes payments from phoenix cards.
The specific contracts vary by business, but every year, there is an administrative fee of around $100 to $150 to use the phoenix card system. After that, Elon takes anywhere from 2% to 5% of sales.
George Katsoudas, the owner of Skids restaurant in downtown Elon, invested in accepting phoenix cash when the program first started in 2003. But due to high interest rates and low sales, stopped accepting it after just a year.
“It’s funny because it was the biggest loss we had since I’ve been here,” Katsoudas said.
There’s another caveat to taking phoenix cash. Instead of receiving the money from sales immediately, like they do with credit card sales, businesses need to wait for a check to come every two weeks.
“As small business owner you want your money to be into your personal account every single night,” said Katsoudas. “It just didn't make any sense why they had to hold onto my money for a whole month. No one does that.”
Three miles away from campus on Huffman Mill Road, the owner of Sal’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza, Sal Mazzurco, has been taking phoenix cash since 2004.
“The real value is to get students to get off campus. Because Elon is so enclosed and there’s everything there,” said Mazzurco.
Mazzurco doesn’t mind the extra fees.
“It’s a little bit more but it’s worth it so that way students have an option besides a debit card,” said Mazzurco. “It’s an added value for the local businesses.”
As an Elon alumnus, Mazzurco likes having the connection of seeing a student use their phoenix card, and says he even has a few regulars who use phoenix cash.
Mazzurco visits campus to promote his restaurant during freshman orientation every year, an opportunity offered to all phoenix cash vendors. There's been a gradual decrease in the number of students who use phoenix cash at Sal's since 2004, but Mazzurco doesn't plan on getting rid of it anytime soon.
Katsoudas said the system may be more valuable to his Skids business now than it was in 2003, but he still doesn’t think it will be worth it to re-invest in the program anytime soon.
Any money Elon makes from phoenix card sales is used to offset University operating expenses and keep tuition lower, according to an email from Janet Rauhe, the manager of phoenix card services.