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Informed by Place, Supported by Citizens

The small business owners of the Berkshires are my heroes. They have adjusted to the restrictions of COVID; they are meeting the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic with good spirits. I want to support them with the same good spirit and enthusiasm, letting them know the Berkshires are a better place because they are here. I pay in BerkShares local currency to signal my commitment to keep money circulating locally rather than paying fees to faceless, placeless credit card companies.

When I order takeout from nearby John Andrews or the Old Mill or the Prairie Whale, I recognize the menu has changed to offerings that travel well or that might serve a whole family. Curbside pickup at Berkshire Food Coop or Guido’s began out of cautious behavior – but need it end? It is lovely to have Emma, Shayna, or Devorah deliver to the car.

Mark Firth and Steve Browning of the Prairie Whale, 2017

Shared shopping is now commonplace, saving trips and exposure. A friend just texted from Ward’s to say the onion sets were in and asked if she should pick some up for me. The little store at North Plain Farm now sells products from multiple farms so that you can shop bread, maple syrup, and veggies with your raw milk and cuts of meat. And if Tess is not there – it is on the honor system!

Oskar Hallig and Mike Zippel, owners of Only In My Dreams Events, let no moss grow under their feet. When COVID closed down in-person festivities they opened “The Shop” in South Egremont with ingredients to make your own party. Their “Paraphernalia Packs” assemble Berkshire-made mugs, hand sanitizer, chocolate, barbeque seasonings, and more in convenient gift boxes celebrating various non-profits in the area.

BerkShares Paraphernalia Pack by Only In My Dreams Events, 2021

Professionals have also pivoted. After being closed for months my dentist, Dr. Mullany, opened again minus all the much-fingered magazines in the waiting room, but retaining the easy chatter that eases my dental anxieties. My accountant, Alan Glackman meets me at the front door of his office building for a passing-off of files, so limiting exposure for others working inside.

Eric Wilska calls his Shaker Mill Books in West Stockbridge a COVID success story. With more leisure time – his used bookstore has become a destination spot. An hour’s browsing with mask, a leisurely lunch at No. Six Depot Roastery & Café across the street, back for the final purchase, and then the drive home.

During COVID, many have learned to savor the ingenuity and uniqueness of our Berkshire businesses. The line is long at Bizalion’s at lunch time, ordering through the window and then waiting for Jean-François or Helen Bizalion to bring out the baguette sandwich or homemade soup.

Jean-François Bizalion of Bizalion’s Fine Food, 2013

COVID has changed our shopping habits. We feel kinship with our small business owners and staff. We recognize how important they are to the character of our communities. We go out of our way to support them even when before we might have judged such behavior “inconvenient.” We take the time to observe and care.

Post COVID, I see this connection between consumers and producers deepening – not only Community Supported Agriculture, but a movement for Community Supported Industries – an effort by both citizens and agencies to invest in strengthening local supply chains that build resilience in face of rapid changes in the global economy and uncertainties due to climate change.

The remarkable Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was an ardent advocate for import-replacement. The Berkshires was once a region of manufacturing. Can we revive a wool industry? Can our hardwood forests support furniture-making on a scale to assure well-paid jobs for a younger generation? Who is finally going to build the “humane” slaughterhouse to responsibly service the many Berkshire farms raising small numbers of cow, sheep, and pig so prized by local restaurants? Can we plant our northern slopes with apple trees and produce the applesauce that is a staple at Fairview Hospital, Berkshire Medical Center, and all our nursing homes? This is all doable.

Post COVID, I see our part time residents moving their funds from large national banks to local community banks, because they see the Berkshires as their stable home. They understand that community banks are invested in the businesses and mortgages of their neighbors who they want to see thrive. An economic renewal is already beginning in the Berkshires, sparked by the inventiveness of its entrepreneurs, supported by its citizens, informed by the limits and abundances of its people, land, and community.

Wishing all well,

Susan Witt
Executive Director, Schumacher Center for a New Economics
Co-founder, BerkShares Local Currency

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