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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen12:41 pmSep 16, 20110

Buying into BNotes, Baltimore’s cool currency

Flashing not Georges and Abes, but Fredericks and Edgars.

Above: BNotes, Charm City’s own currency, can be used in many places around town, but not at Target or Wal-Mart.

I’d heard about BNotes, the Baltimore-centric currency that began circulating around town in April, but I’m about to find out about them in a big and very personal way.

Recently, at Hampdenfest, my husband took $100 of the money that I had just made at a neighborhood yard sale and came back with $110 in crisp new BNotes. I was both pleased and a little anxious.

They’re sharp-looking. The roughly dollar-sized bills have famous Baltimoreans on them: the $1’s have Frederick Douglass (with an oriole on the obverse side) and the $5’s have Edgar Allan Poe (with an obverse-side raven.) You can use them at any of the nearly 120 participating locally-owned Baltimore businesses.

But what would I be able to buy? Would this be freeing or constricting? I had just unloaded beaucoup cool-but-house-cluttering tchotchkes.

Since most of the participating businesses are in Hampden, would I end up with a hundred bucks worth of the same stuff? How would this change my life?

“It’s already changing it,” said Jeff Dicken, director of the Baltimore Green Currency Association. “You’re thinking about where to go when you spend your money.”

Hoping Folk’l Buy Local

Conscious consumption is part of the idea behind BNotes. This “local currency” is aimed at creating an alternative economy in the city, with stronger hometown businesses and local supply chains. You can’t use your BNotes at Target or Wal-Mart, but you can use them for Zeke’s Coffee in Lauraville, Liam Flynn’s Ale House in Station North, and Woodberry Kitchen and Sprout Salon in Hampden, among other places.

The currency has a built-in discount ($10 gets you 11 BNotes) and a built-in incentive to shop in the city, since it can only be used with designated hometown merchants.

People spending money at those local businesses encourages them to expand and more of them to be created, Dicken said. It also encourages an economy that cuts out the middlemen – banks, mortgage lenders, etc. – that contributed to the recent financial meltdown in the U.S. economy.

“We need some local currency to push back against how crazy the economy has gotten,” Dicken said. “The economy doesn’t benefit with companies sitting on trillions in cash and not spending it. It doesn’t benefit with banks sitting on cash and not lending it.”

Since it was introduced earlier this spring, Dicken said, the number of participating businesses has grown and the number of cambios (businesses serving as exchanges where BNotes can be purchased) has also grown, to six. He says there is about $15,000 in BNotes circulating right now.

Think Outside the Bucks

I plan to learn more about BNotes by spending mine (I’ll report on my hundred BNote experiment after I’ve burned through them), but meanwhile, another way to do that is check out an event that’s happening tonight.

The Baltimore Green Currency Association is sponsoring “Thinking Outside the Bucks” at 6:30 p.m. at Creative Alliance featuring speakers discussing localization and alternative currency. One of them will be Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca HOURS alternative currency.)

The evening also includes a “Marketplace Minus the Dollar” auction in which you can barter or trade items or services or use your BNotes.

“You could trade two dozen cookies for a massage,” said Dicken, who also will be speaking at the event tonight. “Bring an item from home that you don’t want or need anymore.”

Hmm. Sounds perfect for those items leftover from my yard sale. Maybe I’ll come and see what I can trade them for. . .

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