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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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In Marketplace

A cash mob in action.

Cash mobs tackle the issue of struggling local economies


Cash mobs might sound like brawls that happens in chain stores during the holidays, when shoppers-gone-wild trample one another to get the latest Cabbage Patch Angry Bird Elmo toy, but in fact, they are the opposite.

Instead, cash mobs are a buy-local movement that combines social networking, small business and shopping. Most cash-mob organizers have a lot of Twitter followers and Facebook friends and set a time and place for people to meet and spend money.

For example, a group called Occupy Riverwest organized a cash mob in December at Fischberger's Variety, 2445 N. Holton St. Dozens of people showed up at the same time and shopped, many buying holiday gifts.

Owner Sarah Ditzenberger says the group spent about $1,200, which is twice what they would make on an average day.

Occupy Riverwest organized three more cash mobs in December. The second, called "Cafe Day," was at Cafe Corazon, 3129 N. Bremen St., Riverwest Co-op Grocery and Cafe, 733 E. Clarke St., and Cafe Centro, 808 E. Center St.

"Cash Mob Thursday" was held at Sunrise Foods, 2879 N. Weil St., KRS Hair, 832 E. Locust St. and Truly Spoken Cycles, 600 E. Center St.

On Feb. 17, "Cash Mob Independent Books" was held at Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St., and People's Book Co-op, 2122 E. Locust St.

All of the businesses were in Riverwest, except for People's, which is on the East Side.

"We held the cash mobs to emphasize the importance of supporting small, locally owned businesses – the 99 percent – over big box businesses – the one percent," says Joe Brusky, co-organizer of Occupy Riverwesr. "Research has shown that a greater percentage of every dollar spent at small, locally owned businesses stays in the community in which it was spent compared to that same dollar being spent at a big box store."

Brusky says he and his group tabulated the total money diverted from the big box stores to small box stores to calculate their local economic impact for the neighborhood.

"From all four events we diverted a total of $10,583.30," says Brusky, a fourth grade teacher at 81st Street School.

Occupy Riverwest was started by Brusky and along with fellow Riverwest residents Jeremy Prach, Steve Chester, and Ralph Anzivino. the group started out doing daily rallies on Locust Street in front of Garden Park to raise awareness of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Many other local people have gotten involved over the past year.

Brusky says the group plans to organize another cash mob soon that will move beyond Riverwest and take place at local businesses in other Milwaukee neighborhoods.

D'Andre Willis is an architect with HGA, a Milwaukee resident and a member of Fund Milwaukee, a group that invests money locally to fund Milwaukee businesses. Willis says Fund Milwaukee plans to organize cash mobs in the near future.

"We know how much more positive the impact of our shopping dollars is on Milwaukee's economy when we spend at locally owned businesses. Cash mobs seem like a great way to support shop local and help our members share their favorite shops and shopping districts," says Willis.

"To compete against the marketing budgets of the major chains, local businesses often need to rely on alternative marketing methods to get the word out."

Willis says at the next Fund Milwaukee meeting, the group members will nominate a few businesses for the first cash mob, along with a nearby local establishment where the group can gather afterwards to celebrate.

"Cash mobs are a perfect mash-up of crowd-sourcing, social media and that good ol' Milwaukee focus on getting out and having a good time with friends," she says.


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