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‘Crazy’ idea for wooden money in Washington town ‘seems to be working,’ says mayor

In June, word began to circulate about the small Thurston County town of Tenino, Washington printing its own wooden money to help out businesses struggling amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Over two months later, it’s become clear that the unconventional idea has been a hit.

Why Tenino, Washington is printing its own wooden money

“It’s a crazy concept, but it seems to be working,” Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier told KIRO Radio.

The town — with a population of just 1,800 people — spent $500 producing the money itself, printing it in $25 pieces. It’s prepared to reimburse residents for a total of $10,000. People who have been affected by the pandemic can receive up to $300 a month in wooden money. They can then use it at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and other Tenino businesses.

Fournier says that while the original goal was to provide financial relief, the benefits have gone far beyond that.

“It’s helped keep spirits up — there’s kind of an unexpected psychological side to it; you can’t put a number on that,” he described.

The city remains ready to reimburse businesses that turn in the currency, but so far, that’s only happened on one occasion. Meanwhile, the money has started to appear for sale online for hundreds of dollars apiece.

“I’ve seen them for about $300, $400 on eBay,” Fournier said. “We’ve had people from different museums contact us from all over the world.”

The town has fielded calls from Canada, India, and Portugal among others asking for a sampling of the wooden currency. But Fournier says that if anyone outside of Tenino wants a piece for themselves, they’ll have to take it up with someone who’s already been issued one.

“That’s a private matter,” he noted.

In the meantime, unprompted donations have come flowing in from across the world.

“We weren’t soliciting for donations, but there have been people from all over the world who have sent checks that want to help support the program, and really show their approval and excitement for something creative being done,” Fournier said.

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