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First Press Release

Dear Friends and Community Members,

Those of us living in the Southern Berkshires realize how lucky we are to have the complex of locally owned stores and restaurants that help shape our community. Main Street hums with activity. Consumers know that Great Barrington shops are unique to the Berkshires; a welcome change from the monoculture look and products of franchises. Visitors are surprised by the originality; regulars are proud and loyal patrons. The owners and clerks and chefs and waitpersons are our neighbors and friends. We sit on school boards together, gather at town meetings, and stroll past each other on the River Walk. Our youth prefer to spend free time on Main Street rather than at the mall. They experience and contribute to the vibrancy of our "downtown." Part of what has led to this successful local entrepreneurship is an informed citizenry who understands that keeping dollars local supports the cultural, environmental, and social fabric of the Berkshires. They ask for locally grown food at restaurants; they make weekly visits to the farmer's market as a household ritual; and they hire local professionals before distant impersonal firms.

Another factor in the success of our local businesses is the plethora of still locally owned and managed banks in the Berkshires. With all of the changes in regulation and the consolidation in the banking industry, a handful of local banks remain in our region--an important resource for the health of our Berkshire economy. This combination of locally owned businesses, concerned citizens, and community based banks is joining together in a new program called BerkShares, a local currency for the Southern Berkshires. Structured as a ten percent discount note, consumers can exchange federal dollars for BerkShares at participating banks beginning on September 29th. Ninety federal dollars yields one hundred BerkShares.

Participating businesses will accept BerkShares at full dollar equivalent in payment for goods and services. Some restrictions may apply to accommodate the individual nature of each business. As long as the BerkShares stay in circulation--for change, partial payment of salaries, and purchase of goods--they will keep full dollar value; however, when merchants accumulate too many in their cash registers, they can redeem the notes at participating banks for 90 cents on the BerkShare, thereby offering regular customers a ten percent discount.

Using BerkShares will be a citizen's way of voting for local businesses and keeping money local. Some families are already planning what percentage of their monthly spending can be conducted in BerkShares. Their goal is to raise that percentage over the next year. Non profits might exchange 9,000 federal dollars for 10,000 BerkShares at a participating bank and then sell the BerkShares to their members at full value, keeping the $1,000 as a fundraising strategy. At the same time such an initiative would make visible the fact that a healthy local business economy is deeply connected to a healthy arts, environmental, educational, and social services community.

In face of the powerful impact of the global economy on all local economies, BerkShares will offer a positive example of how citizens can take responsibility for keeping their own economies vibrant, jobs local, and economic relationships face to face. More information about BerkShares, including a directory of businesses accepting BerkShares, is available at www.berkshares.org. After September 29th you will be able to build a house with BerkShares, purchase a new muffler for your car, get a massage, stay at a hilltop bed and breakfast, arrange a business contract, eat at a number of great restaurants, shop for local foods, have your carpets cleaned, and support your church as the collection plate is passed (to name a few options). New businesses are signing up every day. Make sure your favorites are included.

If your business or non-profit wishes to register to accept BerkShares, you can do so through the BerkShares website or by obtaining a Business Sign-up Form. Businesses registered by September 7, 2006 will be listed in the printed directory available in advance of the September 29th launch weekend.

Please plan to join us in using BerkShares and in celebrating local economy, ecology, community, and sustainability.

Susan Witt, for the board of directors
P. O. Box 125
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-1737

Board of Directors: Asa Hardcastle, Louann Harvey, Jennifer Sahn, David
Lazan, Art Ames, Susan Ingersoll, and Christopher Lindstrom.


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