Can Local Currencies Help Local Businesses?

Fourth Corner Exchange calls itself a “global, alternative currency.” The alternative currency its members use is called Life Dollars. Founded in 2002 by Francis Ayley and 11 other people, the group began trading in 2004. Currently, there are over 800 participating members, with branches in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, and California, plus Canada and Sweden. To date, goods and services have been exchanged with a value of more than $919,354.80.

“Local, alternative and community currencies replace the money drained away, allowing the people to continue trading the essentials of life,” according to Fourth Corner Exchange’s website.

North Fork, a small mountain town up above California’s San Joaquin Valley floor, created a local currency. The town created North Fork Shares to give residents an incentive to shop locally instead of shopping in Fresno, a nearby city. Currently around 50 people are testing the North Fork Shares.

“This really begins to tie you into the local economy,” said Josh Freeman, a North Fork resident who runs a computer-repair business and founder of North Fork Shares. “You have to spend it locally, and you can’t put it in the bank.”

John Walker, acting treasurer of Brixton LETS, a local currency in Brixton, England, says local currencies are “appropriate for local communities, because the money doesn’t drain out of the local community.”

In 1932, the mayor of the Austrian town of Worgl introduced a local currency in order to help the local economy which was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. Although the government shut down the local currency a year later, it boosted the economy. Fast forward to 1991 when the New York town of Ithaca created a local currency called Ithaca Hours. Ithaca Hours currently has over $100,000 worth in circulation. A bank, the Alternatives Federal Credit Union, even has Ithaca Hours in its teller drawers.

BerkShares, circulated in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, is the largest local currency in the U.S. Created in 2006, BerkShares has over million in circulation. Five banks partner with BerkShares, and 13 branch offices allow people to exchange dollars for BerkShares. Using BerkShares gives consumers a five percent discount on purchase.

According to, in the future there might be BerkShares checking accounts, electronic transfer of funds, ATM machines, and a loan program.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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