First, there were flash mobs, masses of people who gathered in public spaces and often burst into song and dance. Now, we have the cash mob, a similar phenomenon—sans theatrics—that is giving small businesses a boost. The organizers send out details via Facebook and Twitter: where to meet up, what time, and how much cash to bring (usually around $20). Then, a crowd arrives at a local business and shows its support by shopping.
Cash mobs, which began popping up in the fall, have spread to nearly 30 cities. "It's pretty fun," says Dan Gigante, who has attended two cash mobs in Buffalo. "A lot of us are meeting in person for the first time." Here are three cities in which cash mobs are gaining steam.
Chris Smith, an engineer at Oracle, started the first cash mob in Buffalo last September. "I thought, A lot of businesses in Buffalo have some significant economic challenges, and they deserve an investment back from the community," Smith says. He organizes a cash mob once a month, choosing the businesses based on votes he receives via his blog and social-media accounts. In January, about 75 people mobbed Chow Chocolat, a local chocolate shop, and bought nearly $1,600 worth of sweets, according to Smith. Cash mob organizers let the businesses know they are coming, but sometimes it's still a scramble. Chow Chocolat's owner, Scott Wisz, says he had only 48 hours to make "a whole lot of chocolate."
Andrew Samtoy, an attorney, organized Cleveland's first cash mob. With the help of a few fellow members from Cleveland Bridge Builders, a local leadership group, Samtoy took to Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. The target of his first cash mob was Visible Voice, a local bookstore, where a group of 40 or so spent about $1,500 in November. Samtoy is also helping other cities organize cash mobs. His blog, at cashmobs.wordpress.com, contains a list of guidelines. Rule No. 8, for example, states that the business must be within a block of a locally owned watering hole. That way, the mob can grab drinks afterward, thus supporting another local business.
After seeing Samtoy's efforts on Facebook, Lisa Gilmore, an online editor at Universal Pictures, reached out to him for tips on starting a cash mob in Los Angeles. Her first was in December, at Santa Monica-based Kellygreen Home, a seller of eco-friendly products. The 20 people who showed up spent more than $1,000. Gilmore plans to organize one a month. "The small business is the flavor of the community," Gilmore says. "You don't have to be a business owner to understand the importance they have in our society."