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10/15/2013

Community Currencies Keep Profits Local

A walk down Main Street in this New England town of Stockbridge, may well bring to mind the pictures of Norman Rockwell who lived nearby and chronicled small-town American life in the mid-20th Century.

So it seems fitting that the artist�s face adorns the 50 BerkShares note, one of five denominations in a currency adopted by towns in western Massachusetts to support locally owned businesses over national chains.

There are about 844,000 BerkShares in circulation, worth $759,600 at the fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90-cents, according to program organizers. The paper scrip is available in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 50.

In their 10 months of circulation, they've become a regular feature of the local economy. Businesses that accept BerkShares treat them interchangeably with dollars: a $1 cup of coffee sells for 1 BerkShare, a 10 percent discount for people paying in BerkShares.

Named for the local Berkshire Hills, BerkShares are accepted in about 280 cafes, coffee shops, grocery stores and other businesses in Great Barrington and neighboring towns, including Stockbridge, the town where Rockwell lived for a quarter century.

Great Barrington attracts weekend residents and tourists from the New York area who help to support its wealth of organic farms, yoga studios, cafes, and businesses like Allow Yourself to Be, which offers services ranging from massage to �chakra balancing� and Infinite Quest, which sells �past life regression therapy.�
 
The BerkShares program is one of about a dozen such efforts in the nation. Local groups in California, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin run similar ones. One of the oldest is Ithaca Hours, which went into circulation in 1991 in Ithaca (NY).

U.S. law prevents states from issuing their own currency but allows private groups to print paper scrip, though not coins, according to Lewis Solomon, a professor of law at George Washington University, who studies local currencies.


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