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Posted: March 6, 2012 'Cash mob' ready to descend on Infinitea

(Courtesy of Andrew Dowd of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram)

 

Jeff Mares will happily invite a mob Saturday evening into his Eau Claire tea shop.

Infinitea Teahouse, 112 E. Grand Ave., is the first local business selected to benefit from a "cash mob," a grass-roots effort that asks a bunch of people to spend at least $20 each at a small store or restaurant.

"You bring 20 dollars, an open mind and hopefully learn something new about your community," Mares said. "At the root of it, I see this as an educational thing."

The cash mob idea was spawned last year by bloggers and attorneys who wanted to support local businesses in New York and Ohio. The concept has spread across the U.S., and Anthony Nied, 27, of Eau Claire, began organizing the local effort last month.

"I had some extra time on my hands, and I thought this is a great idea," he said.

A landscaper with Down to Earth Garden Center, Nied had read about the idea of a cash mob on entertainment magazine Volume One's website and in the Downtown Ink business newsletter.

Nied created a Facebook page, Twitter account and blog for Eau Claire Cash Mob two weeks ago.

After word about the cash mob spread, he placed a poll on the Facebook website that asked which business should be the site of the first cash mob. About 100 people voted; Infinitea was the winner.

The 3½-year-old tea store is doing well, Mares said, but an influx of additional revenue would allow him to advertise more in area publications, donate to local charities or explore ways to expand the business.

"It allows us to do more fun, creative things," he said.

Other suggested cash mob candidates were the Local Store, 17 S. Barstow St.; Hahn's Market, 3045 N. Hastings Way; and Four Seasons Florists, 117 W. Grand Ave.

Part of Nied's impetus for creating the cash mob was seeing one of his favorite stores close permanently last month.

During its last days of business, Planet Soccer, 1013 W. Clairemont Ave., saw an outpouring of customers looking to say goodbye and take advantage of closeout prices.

Local merchants need a "spark" sometimes to do well, but Nied said it shouldn't be a going-out-of-business sale.

If a business is struggling to pay rent, getting through a meager month or facing debt, Nied said spontaneous cash infusions from a cash mob can be a big help.

"That can really mean life or death for a local business," he said.

Based on online articles and blogs, cash mobs can range in size from a couple dozen people to hundreds patronizing a local business for an evening. Going to a local tavern afterwards is optional.

For the first Eau Claire Cash Mob, Nied expects about 20 people, mostly in their late teens and 20s to attend because much of the promotion has been done on social networking sites commonly used by those demographics. Rite Way Transport also is providing shuttle service from Towers Hall and Water Street on Saturday evening to allow more UW-Eau Claire students to join.

For future events Nied hopes to get the word out to social clubs and community organizations.

Businesses eligible for cash mobs must be locally-owned, sell products that appeal to both genders and the owners must give back to the community in some way.

For its community service, Infinitea uses its store to support the arts. It acts as an all-ages venue for area musicians and provides free space on its wall to artists looking to display and sell their work, Mares said.

A week before the event, a meeting place is announced on Twitter, but usually not the name of the business being supported.

Nied is bending that rule for the inaugural mob so Eau Claire people new to the concept can be comfortable with the idea. For March 24 — designated as National Cash Mob Day — Nied will follow the protocol by organizing the gathering for a street corner and then leading attendees to an undisclosed business.

Cash mobs are a spinoff of "flash mobs" — spontaneous gatherings arranged via cellphone or the Internet where people gather in a public place to dance, sing or perform in some other way.

Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or andrew.dowd@ecpc.com.

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