Cash Mobs to Boost Small Businesses in Windsor

Monday, March 19, 2012

Participants Will Each Spend $20

By Kristie Pearce, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Think local, not big.

That's the idea behind Cash Mob Windsor, a grassroots community organization that supports local businesses.

Kelly Ouellette and Pat Ryan started the Windsor initiative after stumbling across a man on Facebook who put a community driven twist on the concept of flash mobs.

Instead of dancing, he thought, why not get people to swarm a local business and commit to spending $20.

Ouellette was floored. "I thought it was brilliant," she said Sunday. "We need to get people to start thinking a different way about local businesses before they're all gone."

Ouellette is all too familiar with the struggles of keeping a business afloat.

Her Sex and The City-inspired gift shop - A Slice of Style - closed after a two-year fight first at Erie Street and Parent Avenue and then downtown.

"Local businesses add flavour and character to our community and we can't afford to lose them," she said. "I know it's difficult out there. It's tough when you're small."

Coming Saturday, Cash Mob Windsor will host its first "mobbing." The chosen business will not be announced until Saturday at noon.

The Cash Mob depends on social media for communication, functioning through Facebook and Twitter. Once the location is announced, the mobbers will gather and make a $20 purchase in the store. Windsor Cash Mob does not collect any money, Ouellette said.

The businesses must be small and locally owned.

They are chosen monthly from nominations made by Windsorites on the Cash Mob Facebook page.

So far there are 53 nominations, Ouellette said.

Hodge Podge - a clothing, furniture and accessory store, which opened last week on 548 Chilver Rd. near Wyandotte Street - is one of them.

"It's especially great for people starting out, like me," said Hodge Podge co-owner Pat Robitaille, 26.

"In the early stages you spend a lot of money buying all your merchandise and hope something clicks with the customers," he said, about the vintage and contemporary items he carries.

Robitaille, who is also a successful folk-rock musician, said he and his fiance, Brittany Primeau, were considering moving to Toronto but, in the end, decided to give Windsor a chance for their new business.

"Why leave? Something is changing here in Windsor and Walkerville is awesome right now," he said.

"The city seems like it's ready for something fun," Robitaille said while sitting at a vintage kitchen table in his store.

Ouellette said the response to Cash Mob Windsor has been great but she isn't sure how many people will participate.

"It could be 10 or 100. I have no idea," she said.

"If we get 50 people out there that's $1,000. That can keep you open another month."

Robitaille said $200 more in a business day is "huge."

Across the street at Twisted Apron, George Ibrahim echoed Robitaille's enthusiasm.

The restaurant has been open for nearly a year and relies solely on word of mouth for advertising.

Ibrahim, the restaurant manager, said the Cash Mob is a great way to bring in new customers and introduce them to surrounding businesses as well.

"We all work together and support each other," he said about small businesses.

"This kind of movement helps all of us."

Ouellette said businesses would be notified several days before they're "mobbed," so owners can prepare and make certain they are stocked up.

For more information go to the Ca$h Mob Wind$or page on Facebook.

"We're helping businesses $20 at a time," Ouellette said.

"I can't wait."