"BerkShares" Currency Helps Keep Up Local Western Mass. Economy

Finding Dulcinea - Anne Szustek - Banks in Western Massachusetts’ Berkshires region are helping gear money toward local businesses by way of BerkShares, a currency that offers customers 10 percent off purchases.

Susan Witt, the executive director of Western Massachusetts-based think tank E.F. Schumacher Society, a group focused on local production, was quoted in online publication Worldchanging: “In the last four years, there has been a renewed interest in local economy, local production.”

Berkshire Inc., another local nonprofit that Witt spearheads, got a $250,000 grant to research and develop a system that would keep money circulating at home. The result was BerkShares, a local currency flowing through some 350 businesses in the Berkshires region, adorned by portraits of local historical figures such as author Herman Melville and painter Norman Rockwell.

Since its inception about two years ago, more than $2 million in BerkShares has gone through the region. The currency’s price, 100 BerkShares to $90, offers customers an inherent 10 percent discount and gives them impetus to shop at participating businesses.

“A lot of my friends and family are people who work in the local trade, so it’s important for me that business stays in the area,” Shanace Sullivan told the AP, speaking about the effectiveness of the BerkShare in the local economy.

According to George Washington University Law School Professor Lewis D. Solomon, local currencies gain attention as a way to shore up local economies. The BerkShares have been no exception, with Witt getting calls from around the world, asking for advice on how to launch their own alternative monetary systems.