Ardmore's experiment with its own local currency will be more than just a summer fling.
Four community banks have agreed to contribute a total of $10,000 to fund a return of Ardmore's Downtown Dollars for the holiday shopping season.
Beneficial Bank, Bryn Mawr Trust, Firstrust Bank and St. Edmond's Federal Savings Bank each agreed to commit $2,500 to subsidize an unusual effort the Ardmore Initiative business improvement district launched this spring: printing its own paper money in denominations of 10 and 20.
Last winter, the nonprofit group was looking for a way to get consumers to spend more money in the Lower Merion community's shops, restaurants and other businesses. It came up with the idea of a local currency that consumers can buy for half the face value.
The Ardmore Initiative provided $5,000 from its budget to launch the initial batch of Downtown Dollars on May 3. However, demand outstripped supply and the group wound up selling out of its initial allotment of currency in a matter of minutes.
The group spent an additional $2,500 from its budget to print more discounted "scrip" so that it had currency to sell at the spring events it sponsors.
But more interesting than the selling of a local currency is how consumers will spend it.
Of the $15,000 in Downtown Dollars in circulation since May 3, only about $2,900 has been redeemed, said John A. Durso Jr., a vice president at St. Edmond's and chairman of the Ardmore Initiative.
Participating merchants have to convert the Downtown Dollars they receive back into U.S. currency. When they do, the Ardmore Initiative staff reviews receipts to see how the program may be affecting sales. As of Friday, the group said, the $2,900 redeemed was involved in $3,565.55 worth of sales.
Less than half has been spent at restaurants, Durso said. Downtown Dollars have been showing up in the cash registers of thrift shops more than any other type of retailer so far, he said.
But there's a long way to go. The local currency carries an expiration date of 90 days from point of purchase. So the last Downtown Dollars sold June 6 will expire on Sept. 6. And Durso suspects that some people may wait until the last minute to spend their Downtown Dollars.
When the program returns in November, the currency will be stamped with a Dec. 24 expiration date, Durso said. The goal is to jump-start holiday shopping between Nov. 15 and Dec. 24 - a time when shoppers usually pack the malls and avoid the retail centers of many small towns.
But that's a tale for when the weather's frightful, not delightful. Right now, Durso said he's "thrilled" his fellow community bankers have agreed to donate and expand the local currency program.
Into the Incubator
The winner of Drexel University's Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship Incubator Competition last week was Outplay Technologies, led by engineering student Dylan Kenny.
Kenny's Gamer Glove is aimed at the PC gaming market and would replace the standard keyboard controls with gloves arrayed with custom buttons. In winning the student competition, Outplay gets space in the Baiada Center Incubator, $10,000 in seed funding, and $34,500 in in-kind support to turn the concept into a business.
Outplay outpointed the four-member student team that won last year's competition. Doug Cerynik, Michael Adelizzi, Brad Grossman and Mark Seltzer took second place as Symetrix Orthopaedics, which is developing technology for use in knee surgery. Last year's Stabiliz Orthopaedics, which has been developing bone fasteners, is still in operation, according to Mark Loschiavo, executive director of the Baiada Center.
The decidedly low-tech Donna's Designs took third place for its Floptopz insole product for use with flip flops or sandals.
Loschiavo said he's constantly amazed by the students' energy and "incredible capacity for work." After all, this amounts to "extracurricular activity" for students carrying a full class load or working in a Drexel Co-op program.