Some BerkShares notes in various denominations.
|Banknotes||1, 5, 10, 20, 50 BerkShares|
|User(s)||Berkshire County, Massachusetts, USA|
|Central bank||BerkShares Inc.|
BerkShares is a local currency that circulates in The Berkshires region of Massachusetts. It was launched on September 29, 2006 by BerkShares Inc., with research and development assistance from the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. The BerkShares website lists around 400 businesses in Berkshire County that accept the currency. Since launch, over 10 million BerkShares have been issued from participating branch offices of local banks (as of February 2020, 9 branches of 3 different banks). The bills were designed by John Isaacs and were printed by Excelsior Printing on special paper with incorporated security features from Crane & Co.. BerkShares are pegged with an exchange rate to the US dollar, but the Schumacher Center has discussed the possibility of pegging its value to a basket of local goods in order to insulate the local economy against volatility in the US economy.
BerkShares are a local currency designed and issued for the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. According to the BerkShares website, residents purchase BerkShares at 95 cents (USD) per BerkShare from one of sixteen branches of four local participating banks. Businesses then accept BerkShares at full dollar value, differentiating the business as one supporting the BerkShares values of local economy, ecology, sustainability, and community, and creating a five percent discount incentive for those using the currency. BerkShares can then be used by accepting businesses to purchase goods and services from other participating businesses, make change, pay salaries, or support local non-profits, increasing the local economic multiplier effect and keeping value recirculating in the region. If businesses have an excess of BerkShares, they may also be returned to a participating bank at the equivalent rate of 95 cents per BerkShare (i.e., charging no exchange fee).
Over 400 locally-owned businesses currently accept BerkShares for donations. Four participating banks provide BerkShares with 16 brick-and-mortar offices where residents can exchange dollars for BerkShares and receive more information on the project.
BerkShares are printed in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 BerkShare denominations, and feature images of local people.
- The 1 BerkShare note uses a portrait of a Mahican, the original inhabitants of the area.
- The 5 BerkShare note uses a portrait of W. E. B. Du Bois, a civil rights leader born in Great Barrington.
- The 10 BerkShare note uses a portrait of Robyn Van En, co-founder of the community supported agriculture movement at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts, died in 1997.
- The 20 BerkShare note uses a portrait of Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dick, written in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
- The 50 BerkShare note uses a portrait of Norman Rockwell, a painter who lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
The BerkShares program seeks to foster collaboration among producers, retail businesses, non-profit organizations, service providers and consumers. It is an attempt to strengthen the local economy. The program also seeks to increase public awareness of the importance of local economies and to foster optimism for the prospect of gaining local economic self-sufficiency.
The project seeks to assure that a high percentage of each dollar spent will remain circulating in the community. This increase in community capital creates a positive environment for new entrepreneurial ventures. It is hoped that new businesses sprouting from the resulting local generation of wealth will replace imported goods with locally produced items, which are more environmentally sustainable in that they do not need to be shipped over vast distances by the use of fossil fuels.
Emulation and media attention
A number of other local currency initiatives, such as the Dáanaa, Totnes pound and Lewes pound, have been developed and built upon the BerkShares model. The BerkShares currency has attracted international media attention. The New York Times, The Times, PBS News Hour, ABC World News, CBS, BBC, CNN, NBC, CNBC, Reuters, French Television TF1, NTV Russia, Business Week, Associated Press, and Yahoo News have all carried prominent stories on BerkShares. BerkShares were featured on the History Channel program Ten things you didn't know, in addition to the podcast Stuff You Should Know.
When someone pays for goods or services with local money, the income to the business is taxable. Similar to gift cards, the applicable tax is taken at the time of purchase and paid to the IRS at the time of redemption by the merchant.
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