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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

‘Cash Mobs’ Give A Boost To Locally Owned Stores

Steve Shutts, left, and Rob Schwind tally the day's receipts, Steve's niece Megan Johnson and brother Jack Shutts celebrate the final sale at the Chagrin Hardware in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Hundreds of supporters of the family-owned business flocked to the store all day long, spending money in a veritable "Cash Mob." (AP)A cash mob in Rhode Island. (Facebook/Rhode Island Cash Mobs)

You’ve heard of flash mobs, where people appear to randomly gather and break into elaborate song and dance routines. But now, a new phenomenon, called “Cash Mobs,” is spreading across the country.

Instead of breaking into song, members of Cash Mobs break open their wallets to spend money at locally owned businesses.

The idea is the brainchild of Buffalo blogger and engineer Chris Smith. He says Cash Mobs are sort of a reverse Groupon. Instead of offering people bargain-basement deals, people pay the regular price to support retailers in their communities.

Smith says the Cash Mob is also a chance for business owners to begin building a longer-term relationship with customers.

He also wants consumers to rethink the value of locally owned stores.

“[I want to] make them think once a month that you don’t have to go to Target for everything you need and everything you want,” Smith said.

Since he launched the first Cash Mob back in August at a Buffalo wine shop, the idea has caught on.

In Warwick, R.I., Annie Johnson of “Anything Goes” says about 35 people came to her store for a recent Cash Mob.

“It was a total surprise to me,” said Johnson.  “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is really happening.’ ”

Her store features the work of 50 local artists, and Johnson said the Cash Mob exposed new customers to their goods.

“We’ve already had people return,” Johnson said. “We’ve had people who couldn’t come to the original Cash Mob come into the store because they want to support the concept of Cash Mobs.”

Johnson said a local business group hopes to organize one Cash Mob a month to build awareness for the local business movement.

A group in Cleveland started a website with “Mob Rules” to help other communities get started. And they’ve even declared March 24 as National Cash Mob day.

As for the original Cash Mobber, Chris Smith says that he hopes to do something of a mash-up next time, where he infuses some of the music from Flash Mobs with the shopping from Cash Mobs for a whole new experience.


  • Annie Johnson, co-owner of Anything Goes in Warwick, Rhode Island
  • Chris Smith, creator of Cash Mobs and blogger for ArtVoice in Buffalo, New York

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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