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The rush is on for golden Sacagawea dollar

February 14, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

If you are dying to get your hands on a new dollar coin this week, good luck.

Most local banks have not received the much-hyped Sacagawea dollar, and supplies have been exhausted at many Wal-Mart stores, which have been distributing them under an exclusive deal with the federal government.

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"The U.S. Mint has not been able to keep up with the demand," said Don Hillis, an assistant manager at the Wal-Mart store in Chambersburg, Pa. "They had no idea how this would be accepted."

Hillis said his store has distributed 28,000 of the golden coins, which depict the Shoshone Indian woman who helped the Lewis and Clark expedition. The store is out of the coins, but he said he expects to receive another shipment in about a week.

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"We have had a number of customers come in who have wanted the gold coins and have not been able to get them," Hillis said. "That's been disappointing to us as well."

The demand has been similar at most of the nation's 2,900 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores, making the coin a success story so far.

Michael White, a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said the decision five years ago by the U.S. Postal Service to dispense Susan B. Anthony dollar coins at its stamp machines boosted annual circulation to about $50 million a year.

"Initially, we thought if we doubled that, we'd be doing a good job," he said.

Officials now believe $1 billion is a realistic figure for the first year, White said. Already, the Mint has produced 100 million coins each for Wal-Mart and the Federal Reserve Board.

U.S. officials hope the distinctive design of the coin, including its gold color and flat surface, will save it from the fate suffered by the unpopular Susan B. Anthony dollar.

To that end, the U.S. Mint targeted Wal-Mart, the nation's leading retailer. One of the chief reasons the Susan B. Anthony coin failed was that it never penetrated the nation's cash registers, White said.

Wal-Mart's Laura Pope said the response to the coin has far exceeded the company's expectations.

The company distributed guidelines to its stores that limited the number of coins to 10 per person, Pope said. Some stores have since cut that down to as low as two per person because of demand, she said.

Robert DeMartino, manager of the Hagerstown Wal-Mart, said his store used the 10-coin limit when it got its first shipment.

"We ran out in a day," he said.

DeMartino said the store then limited the coins to four per person, figuring that made sense since four is the maximum number of individual dollars a customer would need in change on any one purchase.

"Even with the four-coin limit, we ran out in, like, two days," he said.

One of the few places the coins are available is the Charles Town, W.Va., Wal-Mart.

"We're set up to get some every couple of weeks," said Assistant Manager Kim Petry.

Hagerstown Trust Co. also has the dollar coins. Dave Barnhart, the bank's vice president of marketing, said he believes Hagerstown Trust is only area bank that has the coins.

"We stay on top of that sort of thing. Customers enjoy having new pieces of currency soon," he said.

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