A New Community Experience

Buy Local print by claudiagpearson

{Image: Buy Local print by claudiagpearson}

A few weeks ago I heard about the concept of a cash mob: people gather as a group at a predetermined location, they are given the name of a business and they descend en masse to that business to share some buy local love. The first instance that I watched with a lot of interest was a Cash Mob organized in Halifax that targeted Love, Me Boutique, a shop that sells Canadian handcrafted items and supports the handmade community. The reaction from Chara Kingston, the owner of Love, Me Boutique was not only appreciative, but as a retailer, it is so easy to feel like you’re slogging away behind a counter while the rest of the world goes on with their lives. Only rarely do customers come in and say “you know, I’m SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE” and it is easy to lose sight of the enthusiasm you had when you were getting ready to open your shop doors.

Where I live, in Sackville, New Brunswick, a community of 5,500 people with a VERY strong and vibrant arts culture, we have only four or five independent boutiques and a fifty-percent vacancy rate in our commercial downtown core. Rent is higher than the neighbouring cities and towns and businesses struggle. Our town has one of the few remaining independent bookstores left in the region and has many entrepreneurs who WANT to open businesses but are scared of the high overhead and perceived lack of “buy local” support. I’m one of those entrepreneurs. So, in order to show the downtown that we love them and want their businesses to succeed, I decided to organize a cash mob for our little town. Given the small size of our town, I had hoped to gather ten people. Immediately the word began to spread through social media, friends invited friends, the local media became involved and on our Facebook Event Page over 50 people had committed to coming. I had phone calls from local Town Councillors congratulating me on the initiative, the Town of Sackville, celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, donated commemorative reusable shopping bags to participants, everywhere I went – from the veterinarians office to the school and the grocery store, people told me they were really excited to hear how it goes and to find out which business we would “mob”. The enthusiasm really WAS infectious.

{Gathering and Getting Ready to MOB!}

The weather was cool but sunny and it was a holiday weekend, we had about 30 people turn out. Many were not part of the initial Facebook event but had read about it in the newspaper and wanted to check it out. We gathered at the steps of Old Town Hall and moved as a group to our local independent bookseller who shares space with a gift and toy shop – we mobbed TWO businesses with one group. As our group chatted about the concept, neighbours became re-acquainted, introductions were made, and while we were a compact group, it was still exciting! The stores were comfortably full as we looked over the merchandise, some looking for toys for a relative, or a book, or trying on a new necklace or brooch.

We may get used to seeing established businesses in our communities and take for granted that they will always be there, or we see them so often we don’t see them at all. With the economy in a precarious situation, independent retailers need our support more than ever, and as handcrafters, we need THEIR support if WE are to succeed.

Speaking with a friend in Halifax who attended a second cash mob, we both observed that the people coming out to the cash mobs are not those who you might already expect or know shop local, it is as though people are looking for a new community experience. Over and over I heard people say they hadn’t visited this store in a while, that it was nice to get out and DO something like this, and that it was really quite fun.

I followed up with the business owners following the event, both were pleased at the influx of sales and the happy enthusiasm of the event. Ellen Pickle, owner of targeted business Tidewater Books noted, “in a world of big box stores, it felt good to know that what we are doing here as an independent store matters.”

I parted with the crowd, many of whom caught my sleeve to say “so we’re going to do it again next month?” Yes, I think we will…


  1. Janet Murphy says:

    I love this idea! I wish I had been there to join you. I live in SUCH a small town we literally have one general store and I do try to frequent it often and show some appreciation when I do. But it has definitely made me start to think about where I spend my money when I do.

  2. Chris Graham says:

    You deserve a lot of credit for organizing something like this, April. Tidewater has been a mainstay in Sackville for a long time. It’s nice to see so many local people showing it some love!

  3. Sunfire says:

    I was just telling my boyfriend about this idea a couple days ago. It’s cool to see that you were able to organize and arrange it. Perhaps instead of thinking “I wish someone would do that here” I should step up and be that person…?

    • Jessika says:

      Yes! Be that person! I’m sure if you ask around you’ll be able to find one or two friends to help you plan the event + there are lots of great planning resources online. Be sure to tell us if you do plan your own cash mob!

  4. Chara says:

    Nicely put April. As the recipient of this movement, I would encourage anyone who wants to support their ‘hood and local businesses to do so. If organizing a mob is too intimidating, just collect a few friends. You could even take photos of yourselves enjoying your trip and send them to the local paper or put them on FB. Any little bit of press, “spreading the word”, enthusiasm, or rallying can really boost a local independent retailers spirits.

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