Baltimore may soon have its own local currency, or scrip, if Jeff Dicken of the Baltimore Green Currency Association has his way. Next spring Dicken, with partner Michael Tew, is planning to launch the BNote, a form of money that can only be spent locally. The object, Dicken said, is to have the money stay in the local community and help the community grow economically.

“A bunch of us realized that there is a real need for economic options in Baltimore City,” Dicken told the AFRO. “A local currency provides a way for residents to support their own community and their own local merchants. And it makes them think twice about where they spend their money, whether they want to support their neighbors, the local merchants, or whether they want to support national chains that may be taking the money and booking it as profit in Delaware or Texas.”

Darlene Anderson, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints all legal U.S. tender, said alternative forms of currency are not legal obligations of the U.S. government. So it is not illegal to print your own money in America, according to Dicken, but it is illegal to mint your own coins.

Kathleen Snyder, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said local currency is another sales tool retailers use to attract people to their stores. “It has a positive effect, particularly in a bad economy, to encourage people to shop locally” she said.

The concept of local currency has garnered national attention during the recession as quite a few municipalities in the U.S. have adopted their own form of cash.

According to the website mainstreetcash.org, which lists local currency in different states and overseas, the concept has taken off in places like New York City, where you can spend the Brooklyn Torch; Piedmont, N.C. which uses the Pittsboro Plenty and upstate New York where the Ithaca HOUR is popular.

Dicken said local shoppers would receive a 10 percent discount for just using the BNote. “They could spend their $10 and get $11 in local currency. They take that $11 worth of BNotes straight into the community to spend it at any local merchant or service provider that accepts it. This is not limited to brick and mortar stores, this can be used with businesses like a massage therapist, baby sitter, or a local farmer at the farmer’s market.”

Merchants can then apply additional sales or discounts if they so choose as further incentives to shop in their store.

James Hamlin, president of The Royal Theater & Community Heritage Corporation – which works to redevelop the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor – said while he was unfamiliar with the details of a local currency in Baltimore, such a concept would take some time to get off the ground in that part of town. “At this time the community’s business district does not have much of the goods and services that we need,” he said. “We are in a revitalization mode and trying to have a diverse business district, one that can produce the goods that the community needs, but it’s not there yet.”
What is needed, said Hamlin, is education about the effects and benefits of local currency and to have the community make the decision about its viability.

BGCA plans to launch the BNote in the Hampden area first because of its well-defined geographical area and residents that already do the majority of their shopping locally. “At our community discussion on Aug. 5, we got some very good interest from merchants,” Dicken said.

Mount Vernon, Fells Point and Canton were other communities considered by the BGCA for expanding or introducing a form of local money.

Visit the Baltimore Green Currency Association’s Facebook Group

 

Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO