New Populist “Cash Mobs” Support Local Businesses

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February 15, 2012; Source: WBUR | File this story, along with those we wrote on Bank Transfer Day, under new social media-enabled strategies to promote popular support of small business.

In New York, Rhode Island, California and Ohio, a new phenomenon to support local business has emerged in the form of the “cash mob.” The mobs, which have also appeared at local businesses in England, France and the Netherlands, arrive ready to spend $20, meet three people they don’t already know, and have fun. One observer calls the actions “a twenty first century thank you card” to local store owners.

Established in 1857, Chagrin Hardware in Chagrin Falls, Ohio has been owned by the same family for 72 years and was one of the first establishments to be mobbed. Apparently, a combination of factors hurt the business in recent years, including street construction, a weakened economy and the incursion of big box stores.

Jim Black is credited with sending the original e-mail that encouraged residents to “occupy CF Hardware.” That e-mail was forwarded many times. An article in the Sun Times reports:

By 10 a.m. the place was jammed. By 1:30 p.m., the credit card machine was overloaded and had to be reset. “This is so cool,” said Steve Shutts, a mix of joy, wonder and happy exhaustion spread across his face. “I’ve seen people today I haven’t seen in years.”

The line at the checkout stretched in two directions as people with snow shovels and light bulbs and fireplace grates and vintage movie posters and horse shoe caulk—yes, horse shoe caulk—waited to pay.

In Lompoc, Calif., a local surf shop owner has taken it upon himself to try to highlight a different business every month. March 24 has been declared National Cash Mob Day and a cash mobs website has been created to help other communities incite their own cash mobs. Here are some suggested “mob rules” from the site:

  1. The mob date must be announced at least a week in advance via Twitter.
  2. The location at which to meet will be announced, but not the specific business to support.
  3. The amount to spend will not be more than $20, although people can spend more if they wish.
  4. The business must have products for both men and women.
  5. The business must be locally owned.
  6. The business owner must give back to the community in some way.
  7. The business owner must approve the CashMob before the mob is announced.
  8. The business must be within one block of a locally-owned watering hole.
  9. Cash Mobbers must join us for celebratory drinks after the successful mob.
  10. The cash mob will occur during the evening on a weekday or on a weekend.
  11. Pictures will be posted to the blog after the CashMob.
  12. Parking or public transportation must be available.

–Ruth McCambridge