Profiles in Community Economics

This past weekend, in over 150 cities on six continents, people joined their fellow citizens on neighborhood walks to discuss the history of their city, observe its current state of affairs, and imagine its future together. In New York City the Municipal Art Society of New York alone listed over two hundred walks throughout the five boroughs.

These walks are named "Jane's Walks" after author Jane Jacobs, who championed walkable cities where residences, manufacturing, retail, offices, schools, and parks co-mingle. These tight-knit, diverse communities foster the kind of sidewalk conversations that keep the economy vibrant and generate opportunities for new enterprise development.

The Jane's Walk website, hosted by the Tides Canada Initiatives Society, declares that, "Anyone can lead a walk because everyone is an expert on the places they live, work, and play." And true to the spirit of self-organization not every walk coordinator bothered to sign up on the centralized list. In the small rural village of Copake, NY, thirty-five homeowners – mostly of vacation homes – asked the town manager to join them on a stroll through town, motivated to learn how they might contribute to the future of the place that made them welcome.

The Schumacher Center's Alice Maggio and Rachel Moriarty organized a Jane's Walk in our hometown of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Participants started at Town Hall, stopped at the Pittsfield Co-op Bank to change dollars into BerkShares, viewed the redevelopment plans for the former New England Log Homes manufacturing site, walked along the Housatonic River Walk with founder Rachel Fletcher, who shared that the town's famous son, W.E.B. Du Bois, was not only a social activist but also an environmentalist who loved the river.

Participants purchased a cup of coffee and chocolate croissant at Fuel with their BerkShares, visited the Snap Shop to learn from owner Steve Carlotta about the historic evolution of Railroad Street's streetscape, saw the works of local artists at the Lauren Clark Fine Art Gallery, and finished with a green grits and ham brunch special at the Prairie Whale spending the last of their BerkShares.

On the walk Alice and Rachel could point out some of the 400 businesses that take BerkShares. They know that it is the owners of those small businesses, working together with engaged citizens, who are building a new economy in the Berkshires. Alice profiles one of those businesses each month in her BerkShares Business of the Month series. Her interviews uncover the deep values that collectively motivate these business owners.  

It is this common commitment to a specific community, its landscape, and its people that will build the just and sustainable economies of the future.

So we would like to extend a tip of the hat to all those community economists at work in their own regions – engaged citizens and responsible producers alike – who are known not by their individual work, but by the cumulative achievements in shaping vibrant local economies. You can hear some of their voices in the highlights from Alice's profiles that follow.   

 

 

“When you’re spending BerkShares you’re creating a relationship. It’s saying, ‘I support what you’re doing, and I’m going to keep coming back.’”

         Phyllis Webb, The Magic Fluke, Co., August 2013

 

“What’s so nice about BerkShares is that they’re telling stories about the community through the currency.  That’s what is so important to celebrate, and to share with visitors who don’t know about Community Supported Agriculture, W.E.B. Du Bois, or the other stories that are so personally rooted in the history of the Berkshires.”

         Beryl Jolly, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, August 2014

 

“I always think that behind the product we buy there are the people that make the product, and that’s a very important thing for us. BerkShares create this link even further because the people that accept it and use it have that same philosophy.”

         Jean-François Bizalion, Bizalion’s Fine Food, January 2014

 

“Fiscally, the mission of the BerkShares really makes sense.  You know, to keep it in town.  We all talk like that, but it’s a way to put your money where your mouth is. It really does affect your wallet when money leaves town.” 

         Eric Wilska, The Bookloft, March 2013

 

“I’m proud to use our community’s cash.  I find it a sort of Old World way to make contact with people. When farmers take BerkShares, I end up buying more from them because it gives us the opportunity to have a whole paragraph of interaction instead of rushing through a delivery. And with BerkShares, the farmer gets paid on the spot!” 

         Lester Blumenthal, Route 7 Grill, July 2013

 

“There's enough business to go around.  When the town’s businesses cooperate, rather than compete tooth and nail, customers are more likely to have a good experience and come back.  The new paradigm is, ‘we’re all in the same boat, let’s get our oars aligned.” 

         Locke Larkin, Locke Stock & Barrel, April 2013

 

“We can all be richer, both financially and community-wise, if we keep our money local, do our best to support our local businesses, and do as little outside sourcing as possible.” 

         Steffen Root, Berkshire Bike & Board, May 2013

 

“A good business helps other businesses just by being there. The value of BerkShares is its support of the local economy.”  

         Steve Carlotta, Snap Shop, June 2013

 

“We’re interested in supporting the local economy because it supports us so much. So we accept BerkShares, giving people an opportunity to keep their money local, and then that incentivizes us to find local purveyors so that we can keep the circulation going.” 

         Casey Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, Stagecoach Tavern and Racebrook Lodge, February 2015

 

“Investing in the well-being and prosperity of our place has always been an important part of our mission, and BerkShares are a big part of our unwavering commitment to buying as much locally as possible. We welcome BerkShares, and were very early adopters because we believe that using local currency is an excellent way to cultivate and nurture our region’s businesses and resources, which then makes it more attractive for people to live here and move here and work here.” 

         Sarah Eustis, Red Lion Inn, October 2014

 

“We wanted to participate in BerkShares because we believe in supporting the local economy… We like being part of something that’s really unique and something that really stimulates the economic cycle in Berkshire County.” 

         April Burch, Great Barrington Bra & Girl, September 2014

 

“People are becoming very aware of where things are coming from and they’re asking, ‘Where is our money going? To a corporation overseas or to someone in our community who will use it again locally?’  This is happening most notably in the food movement, but I think people are taking that awareness into shopping at stores like ours, as well.  If we can keep our money in circulation locally as much as possible, it helps all of us.”

         Andy Pruhenski, One Mercantile, July 2014

 

“I don’t think anybody wants anybody to fail, especially small businesses.  When Treyson Racin’ opened three years ago, competitors were down here helping Trevor and giving him advice to succeed. I don’t think that’s something you find in a lot of areas.  That alone is going to help Berkshire County grow and succeed.” 

         Olivia Norton, Treyson Racin’, September 2013