Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 2, 2013
For over three hours on Monday night, more than 80 neighbors from a Flash Cashers cash mob handed Shaker Heights Hardware store thousands of dollars in extra business. Summoned by social media and word of mouth, participants who had pledged at least $20 each ended up spending several times that amount, as part of an impromptu grassroots effort to support a 75-year-old, family-owned store.
“It was about 10 times more than we would normally get — several thousand dollars more in sales,” including two gas grills, said Rob Gibson, who owns the business in Shaker Town Square with his brother, Jim. Their late father, John, bought the store in 1954 and still puttered around the aisles until his death a few weeks ago.
There’s no doubt that events like Shaker Flash Cashers give a welcome one-night shot-in-the-arm to the locally owned stores they target. But whether such efforts give those businesses a long-term boost after the initial publicity wears off remains unclear.
Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis and author of “Big-Box Swindle,” said the exposure local stores get from cash mobs and other efforts to support local businesses is invaluable.
“Having someone visit your business who has never been in before is enormously valuable to a local retailer,” she said. “That person could become a regular customer. That’s worth a lot.”
Mitchell said cash mobs can be especially helpful in times of crisis. “If a business suffers a flood or some other catastrophe, a cash mob is a great way for the community to come out and support that business and get it back on its feet quickly,” she said.
That’s what Samtoy and others had in mind after an electrical fire at the West Side Market forced the public market to close for 19 days, costing 100 vendors weeks of business and all their perishables.
Supporters of the market sent out more than 20,000 tweets urging people to stop by on Feb. 23, and of the 3,000 who RSVP’d, he estimates that about 1,500 actually came.
But because it was one of the first days the market was open after the fire and because the private vendors don’t disclose their sales, it’s impossible to put a dollar figure on how many how much the cash mob contributed.
Last Sunday, a group of 40 to 50 seniors from the West Side Kiwanis who heard about last year’s cash mob decided to show up unannounced at Nature’s Bin, giving the store an extra $2,000 in sales.
Sandhya Gupta, a lawyer with the Chandra Law Firm LLC, knew the first time she ate at Empress Tatyu Ethiopian Restaurant that she wanted to come back with a cash mob. The one she organized on Jan. 31, 2012, “a Tuesday night in the dead of Cleveland winter,” drew about 35 people, mostly newcomers to Ethiopian dining.
“The feedback that I got from people is that they were definitely going to go back,” she said. The restaurant got a second wave of diners after the WKSU radio station ran a story about her cash mob a few weeks later.
At Shaker Heights Hardware on Monday night, organizer Jennifer Lehner brought signs, bouquets of mylar balloons and an iPod of dance tracks that included Michael Jackson and MC Hammer. The Gibson brothers threw in a 20-percent discount off regularly priced merchandise, gift certificates and other goodies.
And everyone who bought something got a ballot to help pick the next Shaker Heights business to get “flashed.”
“I think this is a phenomenal way to use social media to make the world a better place,” said Eva Basilion of Shaker Heights, and her daughter, Mary, 8. “I brought my daughter here to show her what the power of a grassroots campaign can accomplish.
“There are local businesses, they are the heart and soul of our community and to support them like this is a brilliant idea,” she said.