Since March, cash mobs have descended on small businesses all over Vermont. The goal: boosting local economies while building community. Cash mobs aren’t as lawless as their flash mob cousins. Here’s how it works: local mob organizers target a small business in a small town. They use social networking to drum up willing participants. These people are called the cash mob.
The mob arrives at the appointed store or town. They have to spend at least $20 on full price items. They’re supposed to talk to at least three people they don’t know. It translates into a socially responsible way to spend a nice afternoon-and your money, if you have the twenty bucks to spend.
"Mobbers" took over downtown Bristol on a rainy Saturday in April. The 30 or so cash mobbers were enthusiastic, chatting animatedly as they closed up their umbrellas and ducked into shops along Main Street.
At Verde Mountain, an art gallery and home improvement showcase, Jan Bucher showed off her purchases. "I bought Reed Prescott’s wonderful note cards," said Bucher. "A deal at $20 for ten of them, and a David Sedaris book, half price."
Reed Prescott owns Verde Mountain. Those note cards Jan bought, he says, show how cash mobs help keep money in the community. "I’ve had two people come in and purchase boxes of notecards," says Precott. "With that money I can cross the street and buy some canvasses. With the canvas, I paint on it. I can sell the painting for $3,000 to somebody who’s not from this area. And all the money I get from them I’ll probably spend locally. So a $40 purchase could lead to $16,000-$20,000 worth of local economy."
Nobody really knows whether a one-day cash mob blitz could have lasting economic impacts for small businesses. Sure, the totals are higher on the days that stores are mobbed. But cash mob organizer Scott Pelligrini says the real goal is building a relationship between shoppers and their local merchants. "I think some people do make a concerted effort, especially here in Vermont, to buy from their neighbors," explains Pelligrini. "They understand that when you buy something from neighbor, that person will then buy it at their neighbor’s and the circle effect in the community is a really real economic thing."
And business owners say they’re excited about cash mobbing because it brings new customers-and possibly repeat business-into their stores.
Hiata Defeo owns Bridgeside Books in Waterbury. She was inspired to join in after her business was mobbed in March. "It was fantastic. I had about 32, 34 people show up and mob my shop," Defeo says. "It was a phenomenal experience and ever since then I’ve been participating in other cash mobs around central Vermont." So far, cash mobs have turned up in Barre, Bristol, Montpelier, Waterbury, Hinesburg, and Waitsfield.
Defeo says it’s easy to feel good about joining this latest social media movement. She says she hopes that cash mobbing inspires consumers to spend money in their local communities all the time. "If we want vibrant communities we need to support them not just mobbing them on a great day like this but every day," she says.
Cash mob organizers hope to turn their attention this month to southern Vermont, mobbing shops in communities badly hit by Tropical Storm Irene.