Community Currencies Keep Profits
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
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
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
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.