By Deanna C. White
In a retail market dominated by generic superstores, pop-up corner pharmacies, and faceless online shopping, it has become increasingly difficult for "main street" businesses – the very businesses that provide the individual stamp and distinctive character of their communities – to survive.
But in the past year, Cash Mobs – created from a grass roots movement – are flourishing.
Cash Mobs are loosely based on the idea of Flash Mobs, which encourage people to link up via social media vehicles like Facebook and Twitter to break into song and dance.
But Cash Mobs have an entirely different purpose. They encourage their followers, one tweet or one post at a time, to break out of the big-box rut and go out and spend $20 at one of their neighborhood stores.
Dr. Timothy Hudyncia, chiropractor, owner of local shop Nature's Lather, and cofounder of the Warwick, Rhode Island-based Let's Buy Local Business Alliance, says Cash Mobs are one of several tools they are using to "reboot community" and "revive the local economy."
"People don't realize the impact they have on a local community when they shop at corporation X. They don't understand how much money leaves the community," Hudyncia said. "At Let's Buy Local, our number one priority is to raise public awareness that we can stimulate our economy by spending locally."
Andrew Samtoy, cofounder of the Cleveland Cash Mob, said the growing movement is devoted to supporting local business and rebuilding an overall sense of neighborhood.
Samtoy said Cash Mob's "suggested" rules for the events are simple, yet precisely structured and well tested. They include:
- The mob date must be announced at least a week in advance via Twitter.
- The location at which to meet will be announced, but not the specific business to support.
- The amount to spend will not be more than $20, although people can spend more if they wish.
- The business must have products for both men and women.
- The business must be locally owned.
- The business owner must give back to the community in some way.
- The business owner must approve the Cash Mob before the mob is announced.
- The Cash Mob will occur during the evening on a weekday or on a weekend.
- Pictures will be posted to the blog after the Cash Mob.
- Parking or public transportation must be available.
At the mob itself, Samtoy says there are three basic rules: "spend $20; meet three people you didn't know before; and, perhaps most important, have fun."
Cash "Mobbers" are also encouraged to extend their sense of fraternity by joining fellow shoppers for "celebratory drinks at a local watering hole" following the event.
"Supporting small business is a community development project, and you need to build community face-to-face," Samtoy said. "The online community is a worthwhile tool, but on its own, it's ultimately useless in building community. Human beings were engineered to meet face-to-face."
The group has also designated Saturday, March 24, as National Cash Mob Day, a day when people across the country will converge on mom-and-pop businesses struggling in a downturned economy to "save the day."