If you’re interested in grabbing a pint at Liam Flynn’s Ale House in Station North but are short on George Washingtons, you can always pay for your beer with a few Frederick Douglass notes.
Two years ago today, 55 businesses around Baltimore began accepting BNotes, this city’s local, alternative currency, that come in one- and five-dollar denominations imprinted with the likenesses of Frederick Douglass and Edgar Allan Poe, respectively.
Now BNotes are actively accepted at 200 businesses around the city, and people can exchange U.S. dollars for BNotes (10 U.S. dollars for 11 dollars’ worth of BNotes) at eight different cambios around town, with another three being added shortly. Among the places that’ll take BNotes as payment:
- GrrChee, the gourmet grilled cheese food truck
- Blue Spark Barbershop in Beverly Hills
- CapitolMac in Fells Point
- Hamilton Bakery in Hamilton Hills
- Woodberry Kitchen in Hampden
“Large corporations come in and extract money, but local businesses [can] spend money with local businesses,” said Jeff Dicken, the founder and director of the nonprofit Baltimore Green Currency Association [BGCA]. Local currency, he said, provides people and business owners an incentive to shop locally while keeping money in a town or city: 45 cents of every dollar spent locally is reinvested locally, according to the Retail Merchants Association.
BNotes are the brainchild of Dicken, a Hampden resident who has worked in the IT field for 20 years. Three years ago, he seized on the “buy local” zeitgeist in the years immediately following the 2008 recession, assembled a group of around 20 interested people and set to work printing 110,000 BNotes, equivalent to 100,000 U.S. dollars.
“We started in Hampden, Lauraville, Station North,” Dicken said. “Then we realized this would be citywide.” When he met with Technically Baltimore — at Common Ground cafe, which doesn’t accept BNotes — he mentioned that he might’ve spent upwards of “thousands” of his own U.S. dollars in helping to get the BNote project started.
Similar local currencies have been in existence elsewhere.
- Ithaca, NY, has the “Hours.”
- Lewes, in England, has the “Lewes Pound.”
- Until recently Toronto had the “Toronto Dollar,” but sales of the currency have been suspended due to a lack of volunteer staff.
- Brooklyn will soon launch the “Torch” because, well, hipsters.
In Baltimore, there’s $33,000 worth of BNotes presently in circulation, Dicken said.
Since BNotes don’t supplant the U.S. dollar and are instead backed with U.S. dollars — the BCGA backs the currency with an account at Patapsco Bank in Hampden and ensures that business owners can exchange their BNotes for U.S. currency at that 11:10 ratio — the venture isn’t illegal, unlike the Liberty Dollar, which sought to replace what some viewed as a U.S. government monopoly on currency dating back to the end of the Civil War, when this country established a uniform, national currency.
Of course, students of monetary theory would cry foul, noting that BNotes fail to meet the “acceptable” test of the six characteristics of money the second they’re taken out of Baltimore. (Page eight, people.)
Others might wonder about inflation, which was a focus at the launch, although Dicken isn’t too worried.
“As small as we are, we can’t have any inflationary effect,” he said. “[At launch] the most [we printed] is one percent of the aggregate revenue of all the businesses [accepting BNotes].”
Dicken’s not sure when the BGCA will do another printing of BNotes, but the next printing will include 10- and 20-dollar denominations.
Until then, excuse us while we pay for our coffee at Bohemian Coffee House with an Edgar Allan Poe.