independent book shops get first wave of community gratitude

Cash mobs in the Midcoast

Sun, 09/09/2012 - 10:00am

Cash Mob: A gathering similar to a flash mob organized through social media, where a group meets near a small business and spends about $20 each. The location is kept a secret until the last minute, although clues are given out in advance and the business is usually surprised. The atmosphere is usually very silly and fun. –Urban Dictionary

This summer, cash mobs organized by various groups have been springing up all over the Midcoast.

Nancy Dell didn’t know she was spearheading a trend when she first organized what she termed a Gratitude Party at one of her favorite Midcoast bookstores, hello hello books.

“One night, I woke up with a clear and simple idea of how to show my appreciation to our local businesses for staying open year-round and enhancing our lives here on the Midcoast,” said Dell.

Last March, she gathered a bunch of her friends, each with the intent to spend $20 in 20 minutes — and departing from the flash mob model — politely inquired first if they could all go to the store together and buy a boatload of books.

Dell’s Gratitude Party netted hello hello more than $300 in sales that night. Owner Lacy Simons was naturally thrilled. “Not only was Nancy kind enough to dream it up and organize it, she was savvy enough to know that a heads-up would probably be a great help to me, organizationally, since the shop is small, and at that point, I was still my only employee,” said Simons.

Apart from loose private groups like Dell's, established cash mob organizations are now growing all over Maine. The first Camden cash mob was started in July, followed by another one in Rockland.

The first Cash Mob Rockland developed out of a community initiative organized by ourmidcoast.com founder Gordon Orme, who is dedicated to showcasing and promoting locally-owned independent businesses. "Cash mobs have spread across the country in recent months, as an effective and fun way to help concentrate shopping and spending within the local community, versus buying from national chains that siphon dollars out of the local economy and have no vested interest in the communities where they do business," said Orme. "More and more people are realizing the necessity, even the urgency, in supporting our community-based businesses, keeping as many of our dollars re-circulating locally, nurturing our local economy and helping to create worthwhile jobs.”

With up to nearly 75 members, Cash Mob Rockland implemented an online voting process through cashmob.com enabling the community to choose which downtown Rockland business would be "mobbed." Once again, hello hello books found itself the recipient, having received the majority of online votes. Although Simons was alerted the day before the event, none of the participants knew exactly where they'd be going when they gathered on August 30.  "We didn't publish the results of the online voting, so it was a surprise, although most people had a pretty good idea," said Orme. For their first outing, Orme said approximately 35 people mobbed the book store in under an hour.

“Seeing the door open and all these people come in at once was pretty fantastic,” said Simons.  “It was hectic, for sure. Some folks wanted recommendations; some knew exactly what they wanted; some wandered and stumbled upon things they didn't know they were looking for -- all of which is par for the course in a bookstore, but not usually in a clump with everyone checking out at the same time!” As far as sales went, she said, "It was our best day of business this year!”

Earlier in August, Cash Mob Camden chose the Owl & Turtle Bookshop for their inaugural event. Established by Brian S. Hodges, development director for the town of Camden,  Cash Mob Camden has grown to 240 people and counting.  Thirty-five people showed up to their inaugural outing with up to $20 each.

"We picked Owl & Turtle because they'd just moved from a very visible location in Camden to a less visible one [downtown] for economic reasons and they had been a longstanding part of the community," said Hodges. "It was well-received, a nice little beehive of activity in there." 

Like Dell and Orme, Hodges chose to let the bookshop owners know ahead of time what they were planning in order to be sensitive to their support staff. However, adhering to the spontaneity of the cash mob model, Hodges also didn't tell the participants where they'd be going. As for the $20 minimum, Hodges said that anyone can participate in a cash mob, even if with a few dollars.

"We encourage $20, but certainly the greater good is to get the mas population coming in with whatever they have," he said.

Afterwards, Cash Mob Camden spread the wealth and goodwill at an after-party at Fromviandoux, a new restaurant in Zaddik's old location on Washington Street with a specialty cocktail for the mobbers. Also getting into the collaborative spirit, Camden Cone the ice cream store next to Owl & Turtle Bookshop's new location, offered the mobbers another incentive: free toppings on any ice cream they purchased.

"We had such great energy from this one, we're looking at mid- to late-September for the next one," said Hodges.

Keeping with the after-party formula, Cash Mob Rockland also held an after-mob celebration at Rock City Cafe, where owner, Suzanne Ward, created a specially-priced "Mob Mojito" as well as other snacks. Cash Mob Rockland announced their next "mobbing" will happen on Thursday, September 27. In addition to their Cash Mob 10% Bonus, they will be having a drawing at the after-mob celebration for prizes, thanks to the enthusiastic support of local businesses.

To follow Cash Mob Camden visit: facebook.com/CashMobCamden

To follow Cash Mob Rockland visit: facebook.com/CashMob.ourMidCoast?ref=ts