February 25, 2011
Think globally, spend locally.
That would be the perfect motto to print on Manitou Money.
The bills, printed by the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, are accepted only at certain businesses in Manitou. But promoters say spending them has much broader implications.
“It keeps local businesses strong, which is good,” said Brian Fritz, a Manitou resident who this year started a modest movement to get more of his neighbors to use Manitou Money.
“But more than that, it forces people to become aware of where our food, our fuel, and a lot of the things we depend on, come from. That makes you realize how unsustainable our economy is.”
Starting a local currency is part of a larger movement that aims to slowly transition communities away from using fossil fuels.
But before Manitou Money can solve bigger problems, it has to solve a micro problem.
Few people, even those who live in Manitou, know Manitou Money exists, even though the local Chamber of Commerce has been printing it about 15 years.
Here’s how it works: You go to the Chamber and exchange U.S. dollars for the same amount of Manitou dollars, which are baby blue, photocopied and look a bit like oversized Monopoly money.
The bucks can be spent at about 60 local shops, restaurants and hotels. Those businesses can use the Manitou bucks at other local businesses or trade them in at the Chamber of Commerce for U.S. dollars.
“A lot of people come in and get Manitou Money for gifts,” said Floyd O’Neil of the Chamber. “Like for teachers at Christmas, or if they have family visiting, That way, you know the money is staying in town. It helps your neighbors. It helps the tax base. It has been very well received.”
But the idea has not been very well circulated. Only a few thousand Manitou bucks change hands in town each year. And you can’t use them to buy, say, milk and eggs at Tubby’s Turnaround or hot tea at The Mate Factor. Those shops only take, as one Mate cashier said, “real money.”
“Participation could be better,” O’Neil acknowledged.
But Fritz is trying to change that. He is holding public meetings to build awareness of the local money. His message: Manitou Money is a win-win.
“If I go to Wal-Mart to shop,” he said, “all of that money leaves the community and never comes back. But if I buy locally, and use a currency that encourages others to buy locally, the money stays in the community. We build wealth.”
He envisions a time, five years down the road, when Manitou Money is accepted by hundreds of local businesses in Manitou and Old Colorado City, and $500,000 in local bucks are circulated a year.
People will be able to use local currency at the farmers market, restaurants, maybe a car repair shop, or even a marijuana dispensary.
If local currency seems like the kind of utopian hippie delusion that would only have traction in a place like Boulder, it is not.
Well, OK, Boulder does have a fledgling local currency. It’s called the Gayan. But a growing number of communities have adopted their own currency and a few have used local bucks for decades.
Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains community started circulating a currency called Bershares in 2006 and since then 500 businesses have accepted more than $2.5 million worth. Ithaca, N.Y., has been exchanging its own currency for everything from movie tickets to local produce since 1991.
Communities from the United Kingdom to the Caribbean have similar success stories.
Fritz and the Chamber want to expand participation among consumers and businesses through an awareness campaign starting this summer.
The first step in spreading the Manitou Money gospel is an extreme monetary make-over.
The current bills do not look professional, O’Neil said. So the Chamber will hold a contest for local artists to design a new set.
“Maybe we could have the Incline on one (bill) and the Cog Railway on another,” said O’Neil. “Something really cool and local.”
Contact the writer: 636-0223