In over 230 businesses across southern Berkshire County Massachusetts, this bill is legal tender. That's a portrait of W.E.B. Dubois on the 5 Berkshares bill, born and raised in Great Barrington, along with a woodcut by renowned local artist and illustrator Michael McCurdy. Other denominations feature celebrated Berkshirites Herman Melville and Norman Rockwell, and all of this local currency has additional artwork on the obverse side by living Berkshire artists.
More than works of art in themselves, Berkshares represent a community reinvesting in itself, rediscovering its history and revitalizing its economic and social prospects through the use of local script.
"The purpose of a local currency is to function on a local scale the same way that national currencies have functioned on a national scale—building the local economy by maximizing circulation of trade within a defined region. Widely used in the early 1900s, local currencies are again being recognized as a tool for sustainable economic development. The currency distinguishes the local businesses that accept the currency from those that do not, building stronger relationships and a greater affinity between the business community and the citizens of a particular place."
Berkshares, Inc. was established as a nonprofit to initiate this local currency by the E.F. Schumacher Society and the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. There are currently more than 135,000 Berkshires in circulation and they are accepted at nine local branch branches. You can also buy them through the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
They work a bit like very local coupons that provide a 10% discount to consumers. 90 federal dollars buy 100 Berkshares which are then used in transactions within the community, usually on a par with the greenback although some small businesses have different exchange policies. Change is made in Berkshares on purchases made with Berkshares. Most businesses are willing to accept the 10% discount because it encourages residents to buy locally, even preferentially at participating stores and service providers. People make major purchases with Berkshires at a wide range of businesses, not just the progressive, Leftie ones. My mechanic at Apex Automotive takes them. So does our wonderful community bookstore The Bookloft, as well as carpet cleaners, attorneys, restaurants and landscapers and a host of other area businesses.
A press release from the non-profit Berkshares, Inc. calls local currency "slow money" because it "takes more time to process a transaction, time for graciousness, time for building connection with community of place."
"Slow money is not sleepy money but awake to the flow of economic life pulsing through a region, shaping its future, providing warning signs and creating options for public policy and private initiative. Perhaps the greatest task of concerned citizens in the twenty-first century is to reclaim responsibility for the consequences of our economic transactions--personally, institutionally, and in public spending. Slow money is the start of this process."
Local currency is not a new idea, but it has been given new life in efforts like Berkshares in our region and Ithaca Hours in upstate New York and the media are starting to pay attention. So are area businesses and consumers.