Illinois Town Battles Online Shopping With Offline Incentives

$50 per month could generate over $42 billion in revenue for local economies, officials say

By BJ Lutz and Phil Rogers
|  Monday, Dec 14, 2009  |  Updated 3:42 PM CDT
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Economics 101 in Suburban Chicago

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Economics 101 in Suburban Chicago

The Village of Lemont is part of a growing number of communities that are more actively encouraging residents to spend their money locally.
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If you like a locally-owned business if your community, patronize it. That's the message the South West suburb of Lemont is actively promoting in an effort to keep local money local.

Officials have asked the village's 17,000 residents to pick three local businesses they would miss if they were gone and to spend at least $50 per month there to help them to survive.

"Most people are spending $50 somewhere, and this is just to encourage them to spend it with their local independent businesses," said Village Planner Charity Jones.

The village provides something of a snapshot of small town America. Businesses have felt the bite not only of the recession and the new Internet economy, but also of nearby shopping malls which have siphoned away millions of local dollars.

"When you use money online, it really doesn't go back into the community," one resident said.  And those departing dollars benefit no one, local merchants say.

For every $100 spent in Lemont, $68 is re-generated into the community, according to Lemont Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Sullivan.

Supporters of the 3/50 Project say if half of the U.S. population spent $50 each month with local merchants, their purchases would generate over $42 billion in revenue.

"As an employer here in Lemont, the consumers spend money with me (and) I can employ local residents," explained restaurateur Paul Chiladikis.

Lemont is only the latest in localized efforts to keep local money local.

The town of Great Barrington, Mass., is one of several communities around the county that prints its own currency. The Berkshares, as they're called, give local residents a five percent discount when they shop at local merchants. Millions of them have changed hands.

During the Great Depression dozens of complementary currencies flourished as thousands of banks failed. Today, it's estimated there are at least 2,500 complementary currency systems around the world, Bernard Lietaer, a co-founder of the Euro and a local currency proponent, told CNN.

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