New England Town Prints Up Its Own Currency
SOUTHERN BERKSHIRE, Mass., Feb. 25, 2007 — -- Susan Witt is an unassuming middle-aged woman who drives a Volvo around her quaint Rockwell-esque town and has somehow managed to foment a small revolution.
After years of planning, Witt started printing her own money and spending it around town.
She is not a counterfeiter. She is the founder of Berkshares, a local currency that was introduced last fall in Southern Berkshire, Mass. (where Normal Rockwell lived out his later years).
"The Berkshares are pretty simple to operate," she said. "You walk into a local bank, put down $90 federal and get 100 Berkshares, and then those Berkshares are spent at full value at regional stores."
$835,000-worth of notes were printed on fine-grain paper and distributed to banks that agreed to participate. The notes are now accepted at 225 businesses in the area, and the program continues to grow.
Berkshares were created to stimulate the local economy by giving people incentive to shop in their own neighborhood, rather than drive the distance to large chain stores.
"We want to encourage everybody to do their business locally rather than going to a mall or shopping online," said Sharon Palma, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "Using Berkshares, you have to do business locally, and the other really nice piece of that is it's face-to-face business."
Several communities across the U.S., Canada and Europe have developed similar programs, but only Berkshares are fully-backed by the U.S. dollar. Several banks in Southern Berkshire have agreed to exchange Berkshares for dollars.
Ursula Cliff was spotted using Berkshares at Guido's grocery store, a 27-year-old family business in the town of Great Barrington.
"I don't think that whether or not a merchant accepts Berkshares really affects my decision if it's something I really want to buy," she said. "On the other hand, almost everywhere I go the stores use Berkshares, and I do certainly have a warmer feeling for them when they do that."
ABC News Live
24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events