Ever since the story broke about a Cash Mob descending on a family-owned hardware store in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, people around the nation have longed to create the same effect on local shops they love.
The idea is fairly simple. Pick a struggling and/or deserving small business that would benefit tremendously from an influx of new and returning customers. Then spread the word to inspire a bunch of people to show up at that location at a given time, to each spend a relatively small amount of money like $10-$20. Instead of a flash mob with people seemingly spontaneously breaking out in song or dance, you have a cash mob, inserting dollars into a local economy.
Here in Michigan cash mobs have been attempted in a few different locations. Paul Hickman of Urban Ashes created a Facebook campaign for cash mobs in Ann Arbor beginning in January of this year. He was inspired to try it after a conversation with Mary Morgan, owner of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
According to Hickman, “She asked me if I thought the idea would catch on in Ann Arbor. I said, ‘let's see,’ and I threw it up on Facebook and within a couple of days we had over 100 likes in 72 hours, so I guess the answer to her question was a resounding YES!” The Ann Arbor Cash Mob page now has more than 400 likes.
Hickman admits the social media reaction has been great, but the challenge is moving people from being supportive of the idea on Facebook or Twitter, to actually showing up at the designated business to take part and spend money.
Still, Hickman remains committed to the idea. “Even though we would like to see larger numbers, many of the locations have reported that our event doubled or tripled their sales for that day. So they are helping, and they do spread the word to the public that there are all these great locally owned and independently operated businesses all around town that need our support.”
Photographer, David Lewinski, was inspired by the efforts in Ann Arbor, and decided to try cash mobs in Detroit. His Detroit Ca$h Mob Facebook group has more than 600 members, but has faced a similar difficulty in converting passion to action. Both creators have moved from weekly to less frequent mob requests. Perhaps the decrease in events will increase attendance.
One standout example was the recent cash mob Hickman instigated in support of Dexter. The community was devastated by tornadoes earlier this spring. While, thankfully and miraculously no one was seriously injured or killed, there was significant property damage throughout the small town. Dexter businesses rallied behind their neighbors, so Hickman rallied his troops in nearby Ann Arbor to descend on the town and support them in return.
About sixty people turned up in the morning, and more throughout the day on March 31st in Dexter. They bought T-shirts all over town that supported the fire department, dined in local eateries, and shopped. Word spread of the fresh pretzels the Dexter Bakery was known for, and soon a line formed. One man, who was going to skip the mob because he had a meeting scheduled elsewhere, instead moved his meeting to Joe & Rosie's Coffee & Tea in Dexter.
It’s unknown how much money exchanged hands between mobbers and businesses that day, but there was a definite sense of camaraderie. Dexter residents like Jaime Lewis and Kathy Crawford made a point of coming out to greet the group as they arrived and tell them how much their efforts were appreciated. They also talked about the lasting effects of the storm on the community and pointed out places on the outskirts of town, like Busch’s market, that had done a lot and also deserved some support in return.
Megan Stehley-Landrum of Red Brick Kitchen & Bar said of the cash mob, “It's great! I grew up here, as did most of my employees. Our customers are the people of Dexter. The reality is they are busy putting their lives back together right now, not going out to eat. Who knows how long it will be before business stabilizes again.”
Both the temporary and lasting effects of cash mobs remain to be seen. Certainly in their simplest form, they bring more customers to a business, than it likely would have otherwise seen that day. Moreover, the hope is that people will share their experience, recommend the business to others, and return themselves again.
To that end, if you feel like a little road trip, or find yourself near Dexter in the next few months, stop in, spread some cheer, and a little cash while you’re at it. Sometimes it’s the calm AFTER the storm that can be the hardest part.
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