WOONSOCKET — It was a mob scene at city businesses Vose True Value Hardware and Kay's Restaurant Tuesday night where tens of people burst through the doors with a single purpose in mind: to spend money.
Organized by the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, upwards of 100 people making up Northern Rhode Island's very first "Cash Mob" gathered in the former CVS parking lot on Cass Avenue at 6 o'clock before making their way by car to Vose True Value Hardware on Cumberland Hill Road, where they shopped for everything from batteries to grass seed.
From there, the caravan of shoppers made its way to Kay's Restaurant on Cass Avenue where they kept the waitstaff hopping with food and beverage orders.
It is estimated that within two or three hours, the group (each person agreed to spend at least $20 on the night) spent anywhere from $1,400 and $1,800 at the two local businesses, both of which have been doing business in Greater Woonsocket for more than 80 years combined.
The “Cash Mob” is a national social media-driven buy-local movement aimed at injecting new life into small businesses that have felt the crunch of the recession. The concept is simple: a group of people converges on a small business and spends money. One of the first cash mobs was held in Cleveland last year. The idea has quickly spread with cash mobs striking at independently-owned small businesses across the country.
Tuesday night's gathering in Woonsocket was the first for Northern Rhode Island. At least three more cash mob events are scheduled to be held in Cumberland, North Smithfield and Lincoln over the next three months.
The way it works is organizers — in this case, the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce — harness social media like Twitter and Facebook to get a group of consumers together in so-called Cash Mobs to spend at least $20 at one or more specific, locally-owned stores.
The three rules of mobbing are: each person agrees to spend $20; you must meet three new people; and you must have fun.
Jeanne Budnick, owner of Pepin Lumber and chairwoman of the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance, initiated Cash Mob Woonsocket, saying she first heard of the cash mob idea after receiving an email from a fellow member of the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance.
The Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance has over 90 independent, locally-owned and operated businesses working together to revitalize the economy of the Blackstone Valley and neighboring communities. The group's goal is to build support for all locally-owned businesses through highly visible educational campaigns to convey the benefits that buying local brings to the community; and influence local and state officials to help shape policies that support local enterprise.
"First, our steering committee researched it, and then we were able to attend a Cash Mob event in Warwick. We were really impressed and thought it would be great for northern Rhode Island," Budnick said.
She said organizers agreed to hold the first Northern Rhode Island cash mob in the city of Woonsocket, where a massive schools deficit has created a severe fiscal crisis.
"We wanted to start here because the city has been going through a really tough time in recent months," Budnick said. "We thought this would create some positive news for a change."
The "mobs" began showing up at 186 Cass Ave. (the lot across from Landmark Medical Center) as early as 5:30 p.m., and by 6:15 p.m. upwards of 100 people were crowded around a pickup truck where Budnick and Kristen Boie, Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce vice president of marketing, stood on the bed of the truck to address the troops and announce the two businesses to be mobbed.
Among those in the crowd were City Economic Developer Matt Wojcik and City Councilman Vice President Daniel M. Gendron.
"It's great to see our businesspeople and citizens coming together," Budnick said. "We're not forcing anyone to spend $20 at each location. The main thing is to spend what you're comfortable with and to have fun."
In the case of Vose, the store was told beforehand that it had been chosen to be mobbed. As for Kay's, the restaurant was told in advance to expect a large party returning from a "wake."
"It was crazy!," said Chet Chomka, co-owner of Vose True Value Hardware. "We rang up 90 sales and basically did a day's worth of sales in one hour. We knew there would be some people coming, but not that many."
Chomka said he appreciated the business and the fact that his store had been chosen for the inaugural event.
Among those taking part in the cash mob were Woonsocket residents Philip and Martine Rioux, who have lived in the city since 1975. They read about the cash mob event in the newspaper and thought it would be a good way to support local small businesses.
"The economy's been tough on everyone, especially the small businesses," Philip Rioux said. "I believe that things will get better eventually, but in the meantime, it's good to do things like this in our community."
While it won't solve all of the city's economic woes, Budnick said, events like cash mobs send a message that people care.
"The people who own these businesses are also our neighbors who live in the community, so this is a way to show our support in these tough economic times," she said.