Detroit cash keeps hometown humming


During the Great Depression eight decades ago, confidence in the national economy was so shattered, and people’s ability to earn cash so limited, that thousands of communities created local currencies to save hometown commerce.

Provincial dollars allowed businesses and their customers to exchange goods and services with currency that had regional worth.

A Detroit trio of small-business owners are reviving the idea, following an emerging national trend. The businesses are creating a currency called Detroit Cheers, and more than a dozen city merchants have already agreed to accept it as real money. “The world is just now reeling from economic chaos; in Detroit, that’s how we always roll,” said Jerry Belanger, 49, a backer of the currency, as he watched the initial run of Cheers bills roll off the presses last week.

In Detroit, the jobless rate is 22.2 percent. The median sale price of a home is cheaper than a Chevrolet Aveo. Two of Detroit’s Big Three automakers are surviving on federal loans amid the global recession.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t do business in Detroit — you can. But, man, you have to support one another or you will die,” said Belanger, who owns the Park Bar and Bucharest Grill and the building that houses the Cliff Bells jazz club near the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park.

Detroit Cheers joins an estimated 75 local currency systems that have sprung up recently in the U.S., said Michael Shuman, author of “The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition.”

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