Cash mobs appear to be catching on in the suburbs south of Boston, targeting local businesses for one-day boosts in revenue to help keep them afloat in this slow economy.
Unlike the phenomenon of a flash mob, in which hundreds of people show up in one public place at the same time to sing, dance, or otherwise create a stir, organized cash mobs vote on which local businesses to support and visit on a designated day so as not to overwhelm the staff.
New groups organized in Middleborough and Lakeville, Easton, and Stoughton have already mobbed dozens of local establishments, spreading the word by Facebook and e-mail. A leader generally brings people together on Facebook, where they share ideas and assemble a ballot of possible cash mob venues. They can be new or established businesses, and often the only criterion is that the establishment with the most votes gets the cash mob, with each participant committing to spend at least $10 to help boost the store’s bottom line. Runners-up may also be reconsidered for future mobs.
Stu Kirsch, a Middleborough technology consultant and horse farmer and ardent proponent of buying local, has been a driving force in the Middleborough/Lakeville cash mob movement. He said spending local is not only a great way to help others in a community but also a grass-roots way to bring people together.
He has also floated the idea of having a future prayer mob at his synagogue involving both Jews and non-Jews, and figuring out how to hold cash mobs for service providers.
“When you spend $100 at a locally owned business, $73 stays local, versus when you spend $100 at a non-locally owned business, only $43 stays local,” Kirsch said, quoting a 2004 report released by the research firm Civic Economics.
The first cash mobs were organized in 2011 in Buffalo and Cleveland, according to the Cash Mobs blog (cashmobs.wordpress.com) and have spread to more than 35 states and abroad.
On May 25, more than 50 new customers descended on The Main Drag in Middleborough to celebrate International Cash Mob Day. The new sandwich shop is located in a storefront space diagonally across from the town library.
Owner Leslie Martella Muse was ready for a crowd, having received word in advance that the mobbers were coming. But she was still exhausted at the end of a long day that saw chef salads, Kentucky Reubens, and Turkey Terrific sandwiches flying out the door as fast as she could make them.
“This is so great for shop owners,’’ Muse wrote on the Cash Mob Middleborough-Lakeville Facebook wall. “I had a blast.”
So did customers like Linda Babineau, herself a new business owner in downtown Middleborough, and a new member of the Cranberry Country Chamber of Commerce.
Babineau and business partner Betty Bissonnette, who run B&B Balanced Books on South Main Street, said they were thrilled to help promote local business, and they dropped off sweets to hand out to customers.
“What a fun way to support our local entrepreneurs and learn first-hand the personal touch you receive from your local merchant,’’ said Babineau, who also treated her 16-month-old granddaughter, Savanna, to an early lunch.
“As a business owner myself, I know how hard it can be to get going at first,’’ said Angela Cummings, owner of Angie’s Pet Care in Middleborough. “The posting about the cash mob was the first I had heard of this new little shop, and I drive by it every day.”
Recently, the Friends of Norwood Center organized a meal mob, a cash mob bearing a different name, at The Common Cafe, a restaurant on the corner of Washington and Cottage streets. More are planned in the future.
International Cash Mob Day also saw strategic visits to Polillio’s Garden Center in Stoughton and to Hilliards House of Candy in Easton, which passed out free candy bars to the mob.
Easton’s first cash mob was at The Village Toy Shop earlier this spring.
Owner Kathy Mabry, who has a similar store in Canton, said she was happy with the eight to 10 extra customers the mob provided.
“We got five new customers signed up that day for our mailing list, and while these numbers are not huge, I do think the conversations we still have about the cash mob concept are encouraging our customers to shop locally more often,’’ she said.
Easton Town Manager David Colton backs the cash mob concept.
“Our local businesses support our town and provide tremendously valuable goods and services,’’ Colton said. “It is definitely of much greater benefit to Easton and the surrounding area if people go, for example, to Hilliard’s to buy candy instead of the chain at the mall, because local people not only sell the product — they produce it here in Easton.”
The Stoughton mob event, organized by businessman Carlos Vargas, of Vargas and Vargas Insurance, was was the sixth such event in the past two months in that town. Others descended on Stoughton Bakery, Corner Cafe, Podhale Deli, Andy’s Market, and Beantown Diner, Vargas said.
Vargas spent $70 at Polillio’s on clay and hanging pots, fertilizer, annuals, and herbs, and planned to go back for more petunias after a rush on the cheerful summer flowers.
“I like what Polillio’s carries, which is what someone in our community would want to plant and use in their yard,” unlike the big-box stores that have a “one-size-fits-all mentality,” he said.
“Most of our small towns are becoming ‘clown towns’ with only cookie-cutter merchants and restaurants,’’ Vargas said. “Having independent merchants in our community helps keep Stoughton unique.”
Stoughton resident Wendy Sikes said she has known many of the business owners for years.
“They are our friends, our neighbors, and our kids have grown up together,’’ she said.
Sikes said she doesn’t like malls or walking into huge stores to grab a loaf of bread when she can walk to Stoughton Bakery and back in 10 minutes and the bread is often fresh from the oven.
Most of all, Sikes said, she likes being greeted personally by owner Ann Azul: “Who does this these days? Small stores do.”