On Sunday night, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics will host an event at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center to celebrate the seventh anniversary of BerkShares, a local currency that the center helped launch in Great Barrington when it was known as the E.F. Schumacher Society.
BerkShares enhance the circulation of local dollars in Berkshire businesses.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m. There will be speakers, and a presentation. It sounds like an interesting presentation.
BerkShares has been pretty successful here in Berkshire County, especially in South County. If you go to Sunday night's event, the Schumacher people will give you the stats. (If you aren't planning to attend, go to www.berkshares.com for that information and other facts on BerkShares.)
My connection with BerkShares goes back to the first local currency that was launched before BerkShares. It was called Deli Dollars.
Some people may recall Deli Dollars, which were launched in the 1990s by a guy named Frank Tortoriello.
Frank owned a place called The Deli. Its original site was on Main Street, where The Neighborhood Diner is now. But Frank wanted to expand, and move farther south down the street. He needed money.
Unfortunately, Frank had trouble getting financing, for whatever reason. So he had to figure out another way of generating funds.
Eventually, with the help of the estimable Susan Witt and the Schumacher Society, he hit upon the concept of Deli Dollars.
Basically, you could buy $10 worth of Deli Dollars for $8. Then, one would be able to redeem the Deli Dollars for goods and/or services at a later date, I believe it was 10 months later, or maybe a year.
At any rate, it was a great idea, because Frank got a cash influx immediately, and people would get discounted deli stuff a year or so down the road.
Now, I have to admit, the first time it was explained to me, my first thought was: This is as illegal as all getout. I mean, let's think about this: The guy is actually churning out currency for his own personal use.
I can remember asking Frank if he really wanted me to do a story on it.
"Sure," he said. "We need to get the word out. Don't worry! It's all legal."
I had visions of guys in black jackets with "U.S. Treasury" lettered on the back busting into the joint at some point. And Frank leaving The Deli in cuffs.
In fact, one sunny Monday morning a few days after the story ran, the phone in my office rang. I picked it up.
"Good morning," said a man with a pleasant British accent. "I'm looking for a Mr. Gen-tilly."
That is the way most British people pronounce my name.
There was a moment of panic. I expected the guy to say, "Yes, well, my name is Bond. James Bond. Apparently, there's a bit of international counterfeiting going on in your neck of the woods, old man. A bit of a problem for us over here. The perpetrator seems to be an Italian chap. One of those long names. Afraid we're going to have to deal with it. We're also looking into the bloke's connection to a fellow named Largo, who was connected to some nasty business in the Caribbean a few years back. You may have read of it."
Of course, it wasn't Commander Bond. It was a London journalist who'd seen the story on the wire and was interested in following up. I provided him with the information he requested. But I was beginning to understand that Frank -- and Schumacher -- had done something pretty cool.
And of course, Deli Dollars worked like a charm, in part because the deli was so popular and in part because people wanted to help Frank out. I know I bought about $50 worth of Deli Dollars and probably spent half of it. And I wasn't alone.
BerkShares are a little different, as the aim is to recirculate local dollars in the community. But the idea is essentially the same: Supporting local businesses and business people. It's a concept that is hard to argue against.
To reach Derek Gentile:
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On Twitter: @DerekGentile