Fairbanks holds low-key cash mob to show support for small businesses

In this photo taken Saturday, May 5, 2012, Angela and Bill Holland check out an item at Fireweed Consignment Boutique during a "cash mob" event in Fairbanks, Alaska. The effort works to deliver customers to a local retailer about once a month. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Jeff Richardson)

FAIRBANKS — As far as mob scenes go, the one outside Fireweed Consignment Boutique earlier this month was pretty understated.

A dozen people gathered behind the Campus Corner Mall, clutching $20 to spend at the used clothing store. They wandered inside together, casually browsing through the racks before lining up at the counter with their purchases.

The event may have lacked frenzy, but supporters of Cash Mob Fairbanks hope the movement behind it will have a lasting impact on area merchants. The Cash Mob, which held its first outing May 5, is a local spin on a nationwide effort to steer money and attention toward small businesses.

Cash Mobs began sprouting in the Lower 48 last summer, when groups of people would form to direct their combined purchasing power toward a specific small business. The effort is seen as a way to support local buying during trying times for many business owners.

Stephanie Allen and her daughter, Hope, saw news coverage of those events and figured Fairbanks could use a Cash Mob of its own. They recruited participants through a Facebook page and flyers tacked on local bulletin boards.

“Basically, it’s just keeping the money local,” said Allen, a fitness instructor and home-schooling mother. “It’s designed to support local business, support people in the community.”

Bill and Angela Holland, who own a remodeling company in North Pole, heard about the Fireweed event online and were eager to give it a try. They were among those who weathered a chilly drizzle to participate in the mob.

“We have a small business — we know what it’s like to struggle,” Angela said. “The spirit of this thing is really good.”

The Cash Mob philosophy is that the outings will give both an immediate and long-term boost to the business targeted. Participants are asked to spend $20 each at the chosen store, and there are hopes that an unfamiliar group of customers will create the potential for repeat business.

Allen also plans to tie a charitable donation into each outing — the previous Cash Mob included a canned good donation for the Fairbanks Community Food Bank.

Kristan Case, the Fireweed store manager, said she’s unsure if the Cash Mob will have a lasting impact on her business. But Case is a big enough fan of the concept that she’s already made plans to attend the next outing.

“It went really, really well,” Case said. “There were people who didn’t know who we were, so it was great in that aspect.”

Fireweed was selected by voters at the Cash Mob Fairbanks website. Businesses are warned a week ahead of time that a swarm of shoppers will be on the way and can opt out of the event if they’re not interested, Allen said.

The next Cash Mob outing is tentatively scheduled for May 31. Allen said the next location, which was chosen through a random drawing, will be kept secret until people gather at a location to be announced. Updates will be provided at www.facebook.com/cashmobfairbanks.

An unrelated, weeklong Cash Mob by students at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has been launched through Friday to support Julia’s Solstice Cafe, a small coffee shop in the midst of an elaborate road construction project.


Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com


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