By Eleanor Kennedy
A “cash mob” — composed of about 20 Lynchburg-area shoppers — descended on Bookshop on the Avenue Thursday night, with participants pledging to spend between $10 and $20 each at the locally owned business.
Cash mobs are a national movement where local people come together, cash in hand, and spend a part of their day supporting a local business.
When Victor Gosnell, who works at Randolph College, heard about the idea, he knew he wanted to bring it to Lynchburg.
“I know how it is with small businesses and how easy it is to close down,” Gosnell said.
The group’s first event, held in November, brought about 30 shoppers to downtown’s new organic grocery, Hanna’s Health.
“It was really exciting, to see so many people in here at once,” said Shelley Fendlay, co-owner of Hanna’s Health on Main Street. “It was very valuable to us, being a fairly new business, because it really did help to get the word out.”
After that, the mob visited Beeswax Candle Company on 13th Street downtown in December and the Memorial Avenue bookshop Thursday night. Gosnell said he plans to organize one mob a month. After visiting the stores, shoppers gather at locally owned restaurants for post-shopping socials.
Gosnell said the goal of the movement is to “get the word out to more and more people about what is available locally.”
That’s what happened for Lindsay-Marie Yates, who said she’s spent years driving past the bookstore and always telling herself she should stop in, but never actually visiting.
When she saw information about the cash mob on Facebook, Yates said, her immediate reaction was, “I’m there.”
“I just like the idea of giving money to a person, not a corporation,” she said.
Gosnell uses social media to spread word about the movement and build anticipation for the next event. He said he chooses locations based on recommendations and looks for businesses that could use some promotion. Then he does some “reconnaissance” at the stores he chooses and warns the owners that he’ll be coming in with “some friends.”
But, he said, in order to build excitement and anticipation, the members of the mob and the storeowners don’t know the next stop will be until the last possible moment.
He posted the location of Thursday’s event on the group’s Facebook page Thursday morning.
About 10 minutes before the group was scheduled to turn up, Gosnell warned Maggie Carey, the bookshop’s co-owner. Carey said she was surprised, but, she added, it was “a good surprised.”
One of Thursday’s shoppers, Jen Oliver, works at Beeswax, the group’s December location.
Oliver said she would take any chance she could to support fellow local businesses, but she was also happy to have the opportunity to pay forward the support that her store received.
That’s how Walt Carey, who co-owns Bookshop on the Avenue with his wife Maggie, said he felt as the shoppers checked out their purchases.
“I have to do this myself,” Carey said. “I want to help.”