ONE of the last bastions of Byron Bay's counter-culture, the monthly craft market, is under threat amid fears of an armed hold-up.

Organisers of the monthly Byron Bay Community Market want to introduce an upfront, electronic payment system for stallholders to avoid cash payments on the day. This follows advice they could be liable to fines of up to $200,000 if ever there was an armed robbery at the market.

The Byron Bay Community Centre, which has a contract until 2006 to manage the market, said a recent audit and risk assessment had advised it to ditch the traditional cash-collection method.

General manager Cassandra Parkinson said management had sought advice from Sydney market managers to devise new payment methods, which would include the option to pay by eftpos or credit card before market day or by cheque on the day.

However, the move away from the traditional cash economy of the market has angered the North Coast Stallholders' Association, with some stallholders threatening to boycott the market.

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With 400 stallholders paying around $30 in stall fees at each monthly markets, around $12,000 in cash was generated which market staff had to collect and carry until a security guard took the cash away.

Ms Parkinson said WorkCover legislation required that precautions be taken to protect 21 market staff from the risk of armed robbery, or face fines of up to $200,000 if ever their was an incident and an employee was injured.

"My driving concern has been the safety of the staff," Ms Parkinson said.

"As an employer we have a very different level of responsibility than the stallholders who carry large amounts of cash," she said.

Amrita Vessels, president of the stallholders' association, said many small stallholders needed to make their cash on the day of the market in order to pay their stall fee.

"We want to keep the cash-only system otherwise it will marginalise and push out some of the small stallholders," he said.

"Many of them live from week to week. They can't afford to pay up- front," he said.

Mr Vessels said the Sydney-style banking system also went against the alternative culture of the markets, a view agreed with by veteran stallholder Greg Vail, of Coffee Oasis.

"This will kill the flavour of Byron Bay markets," Mr Vail said.

"I am willing to boycott the market if they bring this in."

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