Cash mobs: Lifeline for mom and pops? Useless fad?

    This time of year a trip to the hardware store is nothing out of the ordinary for many gardeners and do-it-yourself-ers. Over the weekend customers flooded one Bucks County hardware store in the form of a “cash mob.”

    David Callahan didn’t know much about cash mobs — until Saturday. Callahan, who has owned the Newtown Hardware House for 27 years, said he started to wonder what was going on when he saw a police officer and a line of people outside the store.

    “About two minutes later the front door opened and in came at least 100 people. All at once. I was like what is going on here?” said Callahan. “Where did all these people come from? And they were actually spending money and buying things and it was wonderful.”

    Callahan said in the last few years sales have dropped, and he’s happy for the increased business. He says most of the mobbers are people he’d seen before. Callahan said the day after the cash mob business was very good and shoppers said they’d heard about it.

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    He said he’s waiting to see if there’s a long-term boost in sales.

    Ira Davidson, the Director of Pace University’s Small Business Development Center, called cash mobs “a waste of time and a waste of money.”

    Davidson said the cash mobs don’t have significant positive economic consequences and they may even have drawbacks.

    “Starry-eyed liberals,” said Davidson. “They’re trying to do good, but I think more importantly they’re trying to make themselves feel good with just the slip over effect of possibly helping somebody else. People think that they can really accomplish something by doing something like that.”

    Giving a couple of dollars to a business that’s not sustaining itself “just kind of prolongs the agony,” Davidson said. “It doesn’t turn around a bad business. The reason it’s struggling presumably is people don’t patronize it. People don’t patronize it because the perception of the dollar is not there, and going and descending in a cash mob is not going to change that around.”

    Davidson said he knows the mobs are popular and it’s seen as politically incorrect to speak ill of them.

    Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a national non-profit. She argued that cash mobs can offer store owners a golden opportunity.

    “I think for individual businesses it’s clearly really beneficial when you have the opportunity to introduce your business to a lot of people that have never been there before,” said Mitchell.

    Mitchell said if store owners successfully build relationships with cash mob participants, it could add up to more than a fad.

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