Sunday, March 25, 2012

Racine sees cash mob success: The flash mob phenomenon was applied to local spending

RACINE COUNTY — Cash mobs descended on two stores in Racine County on Saturday, bringing with them not eggs to lob or a verse to loudly recite in unison, but cold, hard cash to spend.
Think of them as a kinder, gentler, more lucrative version of a flash mob — where teens or adults gather en masse to sing, dance or even riot. The cash mobs, however, moved in without the snapping of bubble gum, hordes of text messages and disruption wreaked on everyone else’s day. Spending money was this mob’s mission on National Cash Mob Day.
“If we can get more money spent locally, the more money stays local,” said Nick Christensen, owner of RelyLocal, 335 Main St., Racine.
Racine County’s cash mob was one of more than 170 expected to hit local stores nationwide and in other countries Saturday, according to Christensen. The goal was for every person who participated to spend at least $10 on an item or items of their choosing at their local stores. No big box retailers were eligible.
The grass-roots movement is designed to try to help local businesses succeed and promote the environmental and economic benefits of buying food and products from local mom and pop-type shops, Christensen explained.
If more residents shop at these types of stores, more local businesses may open and remain in business, he said. Those store owners, in turn, may hire more staff — or at least not lay off their workers, he added.
“If more people are working the economy will fix itself,” Christensen said.
Almost a dozen people moved into Lee’s True Value Hardware, 1950 Taylor Ave., in Racine.
They bought batteries, light bulbs and other items at the hardware store.
Christie Kern of Mount Pleasant said it is the local businesses that give back to communities, sponsor events, and help families facing adversity or those in need. She likens it to “a choir singing instead of a soloist.
“I’ve always been a buy local-shop local person,” said Kern, who owns Racine Community Acupuncture in the Franksville area of Caledonia. “This is how a community takes care of itself. When I saw the cash mob on Facebook, I said ‘I’ll totally do it.’ ”
She said she would like for more people to understand the importance of shopping locally. It is more environmentally friendly, she said, and ultimately saves money in the long run.
Kern was one of at least 10 members of the cash mob buying up items at the hardware store. One couple perused the shelves for the right type of light bulbs. Several others asked for help from staff — who actually knew where items were located, offered advice, or even explained the differences between competing products.
If 10 people paid $10 each for their purchases, that would spell sales totaling more than $100.
“I don’t think it’s the money as much as what it means to build a local business,” owner Jerry Andersen said. “It’s about community.”
Big-box retailers, while often offering products at cheaper prices, typically don’t support the local Little League teams, or assist Girl and Boy Scout troops, he said. And, he reminded, “you get what you pay for.”
More than 300 businesses are involved in RelyLocal, Christensen said. The project began more than 18 months ago, he said.
This “shop local” push is not a marketing endeavor for new businesses, Andersen said.
“We may be reintroducing our store to people who maybe haven’t been in here for awhile,” he said. “It’s long-time names in the community you’ve forgotten about because you don’t see them on TV.”

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