Ithaca, N.Y. — A new community currency for Ithaca says it has already signed up more than 55 companies to participate in its program.

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The organization “Ithacash” will put a new form of currency, called “Ithaca Dollars,” into circulation this May. One goal, among others, is to grow the local economy by encouraging residents and merchants to trade goods and services with their neighbors, according to Ithacash founder Scott Morris.

Photo by Thomas Hoebbel. Courtesy of Ithacash

Among the businesses that have already agreed to accept payment in the form of “Ithaca Dollars:” the bookstore Autumn Leaves Used Books; the Angry Mom Records store; the Ithaca cider-makers at South Hill Cider; the independent movie theater Cinemapolis; and K-House, the karaoke bar near the Ithaca mall.

“I grew up here and I love the idea,” says Terry Little, owner of the Center Cafe (a participating business in Ithacash), in a news release.

Benjamin Peters, the Commons clothing store, has also signed up for the initiative. “I think it’s important for the Commons,” Peter Parkes said, according to the news release. “….This new Ithacash is a perfect fit for our business in downtown.”

So far, most businesses haven’t determined what they’ll make available through Ithaca Dollars. However, that should be cleared up by the time Ithacash launches in May, Morris said.

Among a host of other ways to access and earn the new currency, community members will be able to purchase Ithaca Dollars with U.S. currency at a “bonus” rate, e.g. $100 for 125 Ithaca Dollars (written “i$125” in shorthand). As a rule, Morris says, $1 in U.S. Currency is valued equally with 1 Ithaca Dollar.

According to Morris, this will allow businesses to receive value from spare capacity and provide a “powerful offering” for tourists and other visitors to Tompkins County.

Here’s how Morris described the benefits of regional currencies in a news release from December:

“Alternative”, “Local”, and “Community” currencies are types of money designed to reconnect us with the people living around us, the place we live in together, and with that sense of shared purpose that makes a community.

By recirculating in one city or region, these currencies are continually passed from one set of hands to another, helping people get what they need. Home-grown currencies provide an effective alternative when traditional money just isn’t doing the trick.

Other models

Morris says the new system draws from prior and modern community currencies in other cities around the world.

An article from February in The Guardian, for instance, cited the Austrian “Worgl” currency as a potential solution to the woes of the present Greek economy. Another similar article outlined the very successful “Chiemgauer”, which he says has become one of the world’s most respected alternative currencies.

Ithacash founder Scott Morris at a recent info session about the regional currency.

“The model has 3 main priorities: creating jobs, growing the economy, and supporting a culture of social solidarity,” Morris says in a news release. “Ithacash is making a money that works exclusively for the benefit of people and business on ‘Main Street.’”

How big could it get? Morris says that the goal is to sign up at least 100 local businesses for the launch of the regional currency, and says that it could ultimately expand to other parts of the Finger Lakes.

“Achieving a critical mass of local offerings is an essential first step toward creating and utilizing Ithaca Dollars,” a news release from the organization says, “…and having already crossed the halfway point has the team plenty excited.”

Morris says those interested in learning more about the Ithacash system and ways they can participate can do so here.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.