SF 'hood evolves its local currency program — into a Visa card?
The card is available through Mission SF Federal Credit Union, whose sole location is just down the hill from Cortland Avenue. Local bank, local businesses, card design by local artist (Ashley Wolff, an accomplished children's book author) — it's all local except for one thing: the glaring Visa symbol in the card's lower right-hand corner.
Hesse is aware of the irony of having a megacorporation's logo on a card meant to prevent Bernal money from "leaking out to the Safeways, Home Depots, or Amazons of this world." There was debate at the Bernal Business Alliance over the issue, he said. But in the end, it was all about convenience: Business owners were unsure if part-time employees would be able to grasp an alternative payment system and counter space was too valuable to set up another kind of card-processing apparatus.
"Choosing Visa makes sense because is widely accepted by most merchants," said Kathleen Scheible, an eight-year resident of the area and owner of Bernal Homeopathy. She added that the program also features a Web interface for businesses that would like to skip the Visa step. "There was a fair amount of logistical challenge to using the Bernal Bucks: having to go somewhere to physically purchase them, knowing how to use them. We like the idea of cash over credit in Bernal, but for many of us, debit or credit is the reality for anything over $10."
I handed Delgadillo my sticker-less cash and told her I'd be back for more bluegrass when the bar gets its cabaret license in August. Judging from the convivial tenor of her first night, I bet by that point she'll have seen her share of the Bernal Bucks card.
Bernal Heights is truly doing its own thing — few neighborhoods in the city produce the same close-knit, down-home vibe. If the program succeeds, Hesse said his group might respond to requests to help implement it in other neighborhoods or even citywide. The responses I heard from neighbors that night indicated the program will continue to succeed. Still, it is somewhat discouraging that even this successful local business campaign comes by way of plastic fantastic.
To learn more about the Bernal Bucks program, let your fingers do the walking to www.bernalbucks.org.