‘They just call me the $2 bill guy’: Teen boosts uncommon currency

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, holds the $2 bills he plans on spending as part of his mission to recirculate them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS​​​​​​​

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, holds the $2 bills he plans on spending as part of his mission to recirculate them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Holly J. Fuller, the senior branch officer at Easthampton Savings Bank in Northampton, counts out the $2 bills that Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, requested. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, holds the $2 bills he plans on spending as part of his mission to recirculate them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, with his mother, Suzy Fortgang. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, orders his coffee from Melissa Kreger, the owner of Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg. At top, Nehring shows off a sheaf of $2 bills. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, waits to pay for his coffee at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg. “If I get a $1 dollar bill, I’m putting it in the tip jar,” he said. “I hate $1 bills.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, waits to pay for his coffee at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg. “If I get a $1 dollar bill, I’m putting it in the tip jar,” he said. “I hate $1 bills.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Melissa Kreger, the owner of Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg, adds Robert Nehring’s $2 bill to the rest of the cash for the day. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, gets his coffee from Melissa Kreger, the owner of Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg, where he used his $2 dollar bills. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Lane, a customer at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg, shows Robert Nehring, 14, a $2 dollar bill he was saving in his wallet. Lane thought Nehring’s idea of circulating the bills was brilliant and said he planned on doing it himself. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Lane, a customer at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg, shows Robert Nehring, 14, a $2 dollar bill he was saving in his wallet. Lane thought Nehring’s idea of circulating the bills was brilliant and said he planned on doing it himself. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2019 4:25:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Robert Nehring is a 14-year-old on a mission: to keep the $2 bill in circulation.

“I just want to say, ‘Hey, people, they still make them,’” Nehring said, standing outside the Locust Street Branch of the Easthampton Savings Bank. “‘Go get them and spend them.’”

Nehring estimates that he has spent more than 1,000 $2 bills in the community. And since he began this project, his mother, Suzy Fortgang, said she has started receiving $2 bills with her change. Fortgang owns Valley View Farm in Haydenville with her husband, David Nehring. The family lives in Northampton.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department website, the last printing of the $2 bill was in 2003. As of April 30, 2007, there was $1,549,052,714 worth of $2 bills in circulation worldwide. But while the $2 bill is still in circulation, the Federal Reserve System doesn’t request its printing as often as other denominations, the site notes: “The key for successfully circulating the $2 bill is for retailers to use them just like any other denomination in their daily operations.”

Nehring is doing his best to make sure that happens, while reminding people that the bill still exists. For those who need a refresher, the $2 bill features President Thomas Jefferson on the front, and the presentation of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress on the back.

“Everyone thinks the back of the $2 bill is the signing of the Declaration of Independence,” Nehring said. “It’s them presenting it.”

Nehring, who will be going into ninth grade at Valley West School in Chicopee, has a longstanding love of currency and banking. At one time, he had six bank accounts, though today he maintains only an Easthampton Savings Bank account. Easthampton was his first bank. 

“They know him, and they welcome him,” said Fortgang, who added that the staff is “especially patient and tolerant.”

“It just reminds me what a supportive community we live in,” she said. “It takes a lot of adults to raise kids like this.”

Holly Fuller, a senior branch officer at Easthampton Savings Bank who manages the Locust Street branch, described Nehring’s effort as “very creative.”

Since Nehring started his project, she said, she has seen people bringing in $2 bills and talking about it, and the bank has had to order more $2 bills as a result of his efforts.

Before Nehring’s mission began, Fuller said, the bank would distribute $2 bills on a weekly basis, but she noted that they were “usually for gifts.”

So, how does a 14-year-old boy earn money that can be converted into more than 1,000 $2 bills? He works for it on the farm.

“I like my kids to know about the value of money,” Fortgang said. “How hard it is to earn it. How easy it is to spend it.”

Nehring’s twin brother, Blake, also works on the farm.

One of Nehring’s chief jobs, for which he also earns tips, is helping guests with parking at the farm during weddings and driving them up to the wedding venue in a golf cart.

He also helps with other work on the farm, such as planting and haying, although David Nehring said that his son prefers wedding work.

“He’s figured out, ‘I make more per hour,’” he said.

‘People start talking’

On Thursday morning, Robert Nehring recalled what happened when he went to Easthampton Savings Bank and asked if they had any $2 bills for the first time.

Their response: “How much do you need?”

Some of the $2 bills at the Easthampton Savings Bank come straight from Federal Reserve banks, in Bureau of Engraving and Printing straps. Each strap wraps around 100 of the bills, and at one time, Nehring got a full strap’s worth.

“I took it all,” Nehring said.

Nehring’s interest in the $2 bill began earlier this year, but it was about five months ago that he decided to begin his circulation project after watching “The Two Dollar Bill Documentary,” directed by John Bennardo, on Amazon. (The film’s tagline: “They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”) Before that point, Nehring thought the $2 bill was not being printed anymore — a misconception he said others have as well.

Nehring’s first purchase with $2 bills was when he spent $8 for a burger and fries at Scotti’s Drive-In in Leeds, he said. He likes the reaction he gets when he spends the denomination, he explained: “People start talking.”

Sometimes a cashier will check the currency to see if it’s fake, said Nehring, who has even had managers called on him. But in the end, he has always been able to spend his $2 bills.

Nehring also recalled how he paid for a surfing lesson in Nantucket with $80 in $2 bills.

He said that now when he goes back there, “they just call me the $2 bill guy.” 

Closer to home, Nehring spends his $2 bills at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg.

Nehring began drinking coffee earlier this year; his “usual,” for the last three months, has been a single-shot peppermint cappuccino.

“If I get a $1 dollar bill, I’m putting it in the tip jar,” he said on a recent visit to the cafe. “I hate $1 bills.”

Elbow Room owner Melissa Krueger is a fan of her young customer’s circulation plan.

“I thought, ‘This is great,’” she said, adding that she likes to give $2 bills as tips “to confuse the young people.” 

“It’s a conversation starter,” Krueger said.

Another customer Thursday at the Elbow Room,  John Lane, also had a $2 bill in his wallet, which he said he recently got as change from a store.

Lane, 78, said that he remembered $2 bills once being more common. After hearing about Nehring’s efforts, he said he planned to head to Florence Savings Bank to pick up some more himself.

Nehring is interested in working in a bank when he gets older. However, he has another passion outside of currency: flight.

Since 2014, Nehring has been taking flying lessons. Fortgang said that by the time her son turns 16, he will be eligible for his pilot’s license. He takes lessons at Northampton Airport.

Fortgang said that getting to know her son has been central to helping him pursue his dreams.

“We’ve had no choice,” Nehring said. “He’s who he is.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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