When Jim Houghton, a graphic designer in Ithaca does his shopping at the Ithaca Farmers Market, he participates in a unique American experience.
"Do you accept Hours?"
He makes his purchases with the local currency, "Ithaca Hours." He is not alone.
“I buy a lot of my veggies and all my bread and everything all with Ithaca hours.”
“Sometimes I spend them in restaurants or movie theaters.”
Over 500 local businesses accept the currency whose name "Hour" is meant to signify an hour of labor. A one-Hour bill is valued at ten U.S. dollars. This legal currency has been in existence since 1991. Monica Hargraves, an Ithaca Hours Board member has seen the system grow.
“There's almost 9,000 hours in circulation now which is $90,000 worth of local currency.”
Unlike U.S. currency that can be spent anywhere, Ithaca hours are only accepted in Ithaca.
“They stay right here, they travel round and round and round and build our economy through that multiplying effect of money changing hands back and forth enriching everybody.”
Joseph Wetmore runs the Ithaca Hours bank out of a drawer in his Used BookStore. Physically, the currency in his drawer reflects its connection to the community. The bills don't say "In God We Trust"
“In Ithaca we trust. It's not based on some state thing or some national thing or some religious thing. It's based on Ithacans getting together and saying this paper's of value. Without Ithacans this paper would be worthless.”
Ithaca is not the first to consider such a notion. During the Depression, local currencies flourished across the country, as a way to formalize systems of barter. But looking even further back in the Untied States history.
“At the time of the founding fathers you saw individual currency within states, you saw individual banks issuing their own individual currencies.”
With the formal creation of the United States, a debate ensued between the founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton wanted a federal currency as a way to unite the country, while Jefferson recognized that individual communities would have unique needs and require a means to respond to them.
Ithaca has needs that are separate from the United States. But through the Hours system small local businesses have been able to grow and thrive.
“I want to support other businesses in Ithaca and I want other businesses to support me.”
“The stronger individual communities -- the little micro-economies, the stronger the national economy and global economy is.”