one of my former ski town lives, a good friend began an
experiment. He took roughly a dozen quarters and painted
them green. Then he grabbed his loot, went out on the
town and started spending. A few of the quarters disappeared
down the slot at the local laundromat. A couple more were
left as a tip for a pint at a local watering hole. A few
more jingled into a waiter’s pocket, and the rest
were eventually exchanged for a carton of eggs and a gallon
of milk at the locally owned grocery.
Within the week, the green quarters achieved some notoriety,
namely because they started popping up everywhere. One
would show up in a guy’s change at the liquor store.
Another would come down the automatic-change dispenser
at the grocery. And a majority of them circulated throughout
the local waitron community. However, after a few weeks,
those green quarters vanished almost as if the treasury
department had gotten word, blown into town and swept
them off the streets and back to some secret vault.
In fact, those quarters are still out there. They just
started traveling. More than a few probably hopped inside
some local’s pocket and motored off to Montrose
or Grand Junction. Chances are they eventually wound up
in the pay-off bin of a Las Vegas slot machine, in a Los
Angeles parking meter or a big city bank vault, lost forever
to the community that kicked off the gimmick.
For the record, this experiment was conducted in a town
of 1,200 people where trips to the outside world were
infrequent. To accomplish the same in Durango would take
quite a few more quarters, but after this summer, it feels
like it might be an experiment worth repeating.
Here at the Durango Telegraph, we’ve
been on the financial front lines lately. Starting a new
business in one of the worst economic seasons in local
and national history tends to get you there. And as we’ve
cycled through town and tried to ply advertising, we’ve
heard it all. Above all, we’ve listened as business
people and particularly small business people share tales
On the one hand, signs of prosperity appear everywhere
in Durango. Foundations are being poured in late October,
vacant land is vanishing at an alarming rate, and contractors
are working overtime to keep pace with demand. Durango
real estate has been pressure cooking lately, and home
sales are up in both quantity and value. Meanwhile, development
proposals for thousands of units on all sides of Durango
are waiting in the wings.
However, as the earth-movers work their magic and another
batch of real estate pamphlets are mailed out, a trip
inside a local, downtown store-front paints a different
picture. The ring of Main Avenue cash registers has grown
Early this summer and before wildfires
started burning, I was floored after a conversation with
a friend and business owner. The gist was simple: His
business was dropping off.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “More people
seem to be in town than ever. I can almost smell the dollars
moving down Main Avenue.”
He was quick to reply. “Your sense of smell needs
some help. The business isn’t coming through my
door this summer.”
Most troubling of all was that his business relied primarily
on local dollars. And thanks to an errant spark on Missionary
Ridge and the efforts of George W., times have not gotten
easier. Unfortunately, I’ve heard the same sentiment
from a lot of merchants and restaurant owners since.
Ironically, we have one sector enjoying unprecedented
growth and another unprecedented struggle. There can be
only one answer. Those green quarters don’t seem
to be circulating around Durango like they should.
I know you need to travel to buy some necessities and
I, myself, have gone outside La Plata County lines hunting
for better deals. But I’ve also lived in towns where
you can’t buy underwear or Levis, yet residents
have made commitments to shop locally.
The truth is, your dollar has a great deal of power, and
you choose how you use it.
You can easily send it to Farmington, Amazon.com or the
land of mail order and bask in the ease of modern American
life. Or you can do your best to make it work locally.
With a little luck that dollar will travel around the
community, help pay your neighbor’s wages, do a
little to keep your favorite restaurant’s head above
water and possibly wind up back in your own pocket.