That'll Be Ten BerkShares, Please

berkshares - schlesinger
If you find yourself in Great Barrington, Mass., in need of, say, a pencil sharpener shaped liked a nose, Tom Levin of Tom's Toys will sell you as many as you need — and it doesn't have to cost you a cent. They do cost one BerkShare each.

BerkShares are legal tender, but only in one region of the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts, where local merchants, eager for local money to stay local, asked federal authorities and were granted a license to print money, CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.

"If you have BerkShares in your pocket, then in fact, there are only a very limited number of stores you can shop at," said the new currency program's founder, Susan Witt.

In exchange, buyers get a break when they swap dollars for BerkShares at the local bank.

You get 10 percent more BerkShares for every dollar you change. It's a built-in discount if you shop at places like Henry Baldwin's hardware store instead of a multinational chain.

You're not going to spend your BerkShares at Wal-Mart, though.

"They would never take them in a million years," Baldwin says.

Other regions have tried this, but not on as large a scale. Almost 800,000 BerkShares are in circulation. And Bud Atwood has been spending them at local businesses like nobody's business.Doing so makes him feel good.

"I know the money's going to stay here. I know that people are going to be able to use it to keep their businesses going," Atwood says.

But some businesspeople complain they are actually losing money by taking BerkShares, because when they go to convert them back into dollars, they get back 10 percent less.

The trouble is they can't pay most of their everyday expenses with BerkShares. Cars and gas and mortgages still have to be paid the old fashioned way — with U.S. dollars.

So there's no real threat to the greenback from Great Barrington — yet. But it has some competition from blue bills and red bills that, at least here on Main Street, are almost as good as gold.