GREAT BARRINGTON — Adams Community Bank has joined the BerkShares program, which means the local currency is now easily available to residents, visitors, and business owners countywide for the first time in its 10-year history.
The Adams-based community bank chain began offering BerkShares at five of its seven branches last week, and at the remaining two this week, said BerkShares Executive Director Alice Maggio.
The bank operates two branches in Adams, and single offices in Cheshire, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, North Adams and Williamstown.
BerkShares also have made their way into Pittsfield via Lee Bank's branch on North Street, which began offering the local currency on Monday, Maggio said.
Founded in Great Barrington through the Schumaker Center for a New Economics in 2006, BerkShares had previously been available at financial institutions only as far north as the Lee Bank branch on Route 7 in Lenox.
The currency is placed into circulation when citizens trade U.S. currency for BerkShares at the local banks that operate BerkShares exchanges. The exchange rate is 95 cents for 1 BerkShare.
Although banks north of Lenox didn't carry them, a few businesses in Pittsfield and North County had been accepting BerkShares as a form of payment, Maggio said.
With the currency now available countywide, the BerkShares program is planning to bringing more Northern and Central Berkshire businesses into the fold.
"That's what we're going to be working on now," Maggio said. In order to further spread the word, BerkShares also is scheduled to participate at some upcoming events in North Adams
"It's always been open to all businesses in the area to accept BerkShares, but because we didn't have them further north than Lenox, it was less likely that a consumer of a business would use them," Maggio said. "This is going to open up the opportunity for people to use BerkShares."
Local businesses interested in participating in the program can enroll at BerkShares website, www.berkshares.org.
"It's always 100 percent free to participate," Maggio said. "Anyone can sign up at any time. We prefer that businesses sign up with us because that way we can enlist them in our directory."
Adams Community Bank decided to join the BerkShares program because it was a "perfect fit" with the financial institution's mission as a community bank, said President Charles O'Brien.
"As a community bank focusing just on the Berkshires we certainly value companies that keep their business local," he said. "We certainly try to keep our business local. This certainly seemed like a natural extension for us, especially since we've expanded down to our Lee and Lenox locations."
O'Brien had originally expressed interest in joining the BerkShares program 2007 when he served as president and CEO of South Adams Savings Bank. South Adams Saving Bank and the Adams Cooperative Bank merged to form Adams Community Bank in 2012.
"When we opened our office in Lee we (also) explored it, but at the time it time wasn't the best fit," O'Brien said. "When we added our location in Lenox we revisited it. Being part of an organization that has 400 businesses who are trying to keep their business local seemed like a natural fit."
BerkShares also are currently available at the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank's Great Barrington branch, Lee Bank's branches in Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge and at the Salisbury Bank and Trust Co.'s branches in Great Barrington, Sheffield and South Egremont.
Berkshire Bank, the county's largest bank, carried BerkShares in its South County branches, but temporarily withdrew from the program in 2014, and has yet to return. Lenox Community Bank also carried BerkShares before it merged with Adams Community Bank last year.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.
On the web ...
For a list of county businesses that accept the local currency, go to BerkShares' interactive directory at www.berkshares.org/business/search. All the businesses that accept BerkShares are locally owned.