One gloomy day in May, outside a storefront in Ardmore, Pa., people lined up around the block — some had come from as far as 20 miles away — to buy what, at a glance, looked like Monopoly money.

But play money this was not. Holders of so-called "Downtown Dollars" would receive a 50% discount on purchases at participating merchants in Ardmore, near Philadelphia. The dollars were gone "almost instantly," said Jil Rappaport, project manager at the Ardmore Initiative, the nonprofit group that created the currency.

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