HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A mob's growing on Main Street planning to storm the next shop in Hutchinson. The good news is the mobsters are friendly and inclined to spend money.
Earlier this month about 50 people participating in a Cash Mob crowded into Back to Nature on Main Street at noon. Beforehand they gathered at the corner of 13th and Main, then as a group, entered the shop and purchased everything from ear candles, six packs of root beer, dried soup mixes and body lotion.
Hutchinson's first Cash Mob was organized by Bob Colladay, a local software developer. He heard about the cash mob concept while listening to a National Public Radio report about a group in Cleveland and decided to give it a try.
He started Hutchinson Cash Mob on Facebook by inviting 20 friends, who were told to invite others. That list grew to 167 people, who voted on their favorite places to shop. This month it was Back to Nature, next month they will vote again. Business owners cannot vote.
The goal is to visit small, locally-owned businesses as a group at least once a month and surprise the owner with multiple purchases, Colladay said. After the shopping spree where each purchase was for at least $10, the group went to lunch together to show off their finds. Others took pictures of their purchases and placed them on the Facebook page.
The plan, according to Colladay, is to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and give the business owner a bit of a boost.
Cash mobs are spreading across the U.S., Canada and around the globe, according to http://cashmobs.wordpress.com/
"While organized by a variety of groups they all have the same goal in mind, to support the local businesses that they love," the site reports.
The groups are not political or social, or a movement meant to be an answer to economic crisis. But the organized cash mobs are trying to make a positive impact on the businesses in their communities. A relatively new trend, they have just sprung up in the past year with the first mob scene reported in Buffalo, N.Y. on Aug.5.
"This is beyond my expectations," said a smiling Colladay, as he watched the mob filing into the store.
He admits to making up the rules as they go. He has no way of knowing if such an influx of customers all at once might save a failing business. But, he believes bringing people into small shops and exposing them to its products could bring a spike in sales.
"It smells good," said Jo Stropes, as she and her husband Kurt stepped into the shop which had a mild scent of peppermint from homemade soaps. "We need our attention drawn to locally owned businesses."
Over the years Back to Nature, a local natural health store, has handled crowds of maybe five or six people in its small store. Plus, there was the time when about 12 Red Hatters showed up, said Cathy McMurphy, the store's owner. But, nothing compared to Saturday's crowd.
"This is a mob," confirmed Steve Engelhardt, the clerk working the cash register.
As the crowd grew it became difficult to move through the aisles without rubbing shoulders with other customers.
For Andrea Springer, who lives in the neighborhood, the Cash Mob was an opportunity to come back to a store she hadn't visited in a while. She thought the gathering was a great idea, and hadn't realized the owners had increased their stock.
"I think it's phenomenal," said McMurphy, who was delighted by the mass of spenders who descended on her business. "I think it's wonderful when people come together to support the small businesses. They feed off of each other. It's the community coming together."