WOMEN@WORK

Cash mobs descend on Maine

Posted Dec. 13, 2012, at 6:13 p.m.

Twenty Dollars in your pocket? Check.

Twenty new friends by your side? Check.

Name of a previously secret location? Check.

Boost to a downtown business and loads of fun? Priceless.

And so goes the Cash Mob, a phenomenon that began last August in New York and has swept the nation over the past year. Based on the flash mob idea, a cash mob is a group of people who meet up and “mob” a business with sales. The idea is to support a downtown merchant and the local economy, as well as to provide a fun social gathering for the “mobbers.”

Cities and towns across the nation, including several in Maine, have been organizing cash mobs with much success. The rules are simple and anyone can do it. The organizer of the mob carefully chooses the store or business to make certain it is “mob-worthy.” Mobbers meet in a selected location just prior to descending on the chosen merchant (that information is kept secret until the day of the event). Mobbers descend on the store, committing to spending $20 each. Afterwards, mobbers meet for a social gathering at an area restaurant or bar to show-off their purchases and to share their experience.

The Town of Camden jumped on the cash mob bandwagon in late summer. They did so after finishing their downtown master plan and becoming a Maine Downtown Network Community, both of which encouraged establishing a shop local campaign. Patten, Farmington, South Portland, Augusta and Bath also have had cash mobs.

Camden has had three events during the last four months, the brainchild of Brian Hodges, the town’s community and economic development director. The events have been wildly successful, with the latest including nearly 40 mobbers.

Hodges is spearheading the effort to change the perception of Camden as a summer only community.

“Camden is really a year-round community. Cash Mob Camden is one way in which we are demonstrating that fact and encouraging our residents to think local, shop local and buy local,” he said.

Participating merchants in Camden include The Owl & Turtle Bookshop, Camden Cone, Fromviandoux, Rockport Blueprint, Healing Arts Maine, 40 Paper, The Well Tempered Kitchen and Graffam Brothers Harborside Restaurant.

Owners and operators of these businesses gushed about how transformative the cash mob has been for their business.

“As a new restaurant, we were excited to have the opportunity to have that many locals in our space to experience the feel and atmosphere of the restaurant,” explained Alyson Flemming of Fromviandoux. “As an owner of a business that is open year round in a town that is considered by many to be seasonal, it is so important to get people out and about. Even more so in the winter months when every business experiences those slow days. We as a community need to stick together and always think of ways to support each other so we can thrive. Cash mob is such a great way to keep our money local and to get people thinking about where their money is really going when they chose to shop online or in a big box store instead of keeping it in this amazing and resourceful community we live in.”

Gail Montgomery, the owner of The Well Tempered Kitchen, agreed and emphasized how enjoyable a cash mob is.

“The total cash mob experience was nothing but positive,” she said. “From the mystery surrounding the choice of business to welcoming the ‘mob’ of customers, to the extra cash boost it provided our business, it was just plain fun. We, as a new business in Camden, experienced it as a wonderful way to introduce people to our store in a way that advertising would never do.”

Hodges plans to continue organizing cash mobs in Camden throughout the winter. Clearly, the community is on board and the events now have a sponsor in Camden National Bank.

Joan Welsh, a state representative from Knox County and an avid mobber, couldn’t say enough about her experience as a mobber: “Cash mobs are great! They are festive and fun, and it’s terrific to see the community turning out for them. The merchants have done a great job giving discounts and partnering with some of the eateries to offer special drinks and eats afterwards. It’s all in the spirit of fun while helping our local economy.”

To see if your town is part of this new wave, or to get one started, check the Cash Mob link above or your town’s website.

Jenn Dobransky is the Microenterprise Coordinator for the Midcoast for the Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community. She can be reached at jenn.dobransky@maine.edu.

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