Seen any of those $2 bills floating around Toledo bearing a blue-inked stamp?
They're handing 'em out left and right, although it's not like anyone's giving away money. But Toledo Choose Local has launched a campaign recently to remind us to do what the organization's name suggests.
"It matters if people spend their money locally," said Stacy Jurich, TCL's executive director. "When people spend at national chains, a lot of the revenues are going to leave our economy. But if they spend locally, chances are that will be recirculated."
Toledo Choose Local was at the downtown Farmer's Market on two recent Saturdays, she said, and "we set up a booth, just like the other vendors, so people could come with $100 and we'd exchange that for $2 bills stamped with our logo."
The initiative is a halfway step. While Ms. Jurich researched the idea of local currency - much like the well-known "Ithaca Hours" in that New York college town - such an effort turned out to be too ambitious.
"We'd almost need another nonprofit to do something to that extent. But the $2-bill campaign is something we can do, and it's money committed to be spent only at Toledo-owned businesses. With the $2 bills not really being very common anymore, with our stamp on it it's almost like it is local currency," she said of the TCL logo that features an outline of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway. (Now, I know what you're thinking, and so does Ms. Jurich. It's one of her most-asked questions, and the answer she gives is this:
"No, it's not illegal. From the research our lawyers have done, as long as we're not making the currency illegible or invalid, then we're not defacing it.")
She said she got the idea from a news story this spring about a small-town southern pharmacist who paid out employee bonuses in $2 bills - with strings attached.
"He told them to donate some of the money to local charities and spend the rest in locally owned businesses. And sure enough, he started seeing the bills coming back into his own business," said Ms. Jurich.
The pharmacist, Danny Cottrell, said yesterday those $2 bills are still circulating in Brewton, Ala., just above the Florida Panhandle.
"We're about 50 miles from Pensacola," said Mr. Cottrell, "and it's been our habit to go load up our shopping at the mall there, and see movies and eat in restaurants. And those habits are hard to break."
He's not kidding himself. He never expected his plan to rescue Brewton businesses: "There's no way $16,000 [worth of $2 bills] is going to change the economy. But it might change your mind a little bit."
Since spring, Mr. Cottrell said, his worker-bonus payout has helped raise awareness in his town of some 7,500.
"It's not something that's going to change overnight, but I think we've made some people stop and think about the importance of shopping local. Let's face it: Local businesses can't just expect people to pay extra to go to them. They've got to be competitive. But we've got to change the mind-set. When we did this, I had several employees who went into [local] stores they'd never been in before - including my wife."
Roberta de Boer is a columnist for The Blade. At toledoblade.com on Tuesdays, she and sports columnist Dave Hackenberg offer point-counterpoint on issues large and small.
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