Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2012
Bringing together strangers, often through social media, the events aim to support locally owned merchants. The upshot: stores get a windfall, and ‘mobsters’ learn more about their city and meet new friends.
The crowd stood at the corner of San Pedro and Boyd streets, a bustling shopping area near L.A.’s Skid Row, waiting for stragglers to arrive before descending on the store. But this mob wasn’t an angry one. It had gathered on a recent Saturday afternoon to spend money at a small cafe and boutique.
Dubbed a “cash mob,” members of the group, many of them young professionals, had arranged the event through social media. Over the course of an hour, the shoppers plucked soy candles, pillows, purses and ornate jewelry from the shelves. By the time they were through, they had dropped $1,200 — nearly double what Made by DWC brings in on a typical day.
“We sold out of a lot of products,” said Patrick Shandrick, spokesman for the nonprofit Downtown Women’s Center, which operates the shop. This event was “more of what the holidays are like.”
Cash mobs have cleverly harnessed social media to make small businesses the meme of the moment. Tough economic times have raised awareness about the plight of Main Street merchants, said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance who has written extensively on small businesses.
“Whether people will continue to organize these [cash mobs], it’ll be interesting to see,” Mitchell said. “The larger point is that this is part of a much larger trend in terms of support for the independent business movement.”
About 200 cash mobs have sprung up across the U.S. since last summer, including nearly two dozen in California, according to Andrew Samtoy, a Cleveland attorney who has become something of a Pied Piper for the movement. He organized his own cash mob in November as a way to get strangers to meet for a fun outing that would also help boost the local economy. Samtoy garnered media attention for his efforts, and he enlisted friends in other U.S. cities to organize their own events.