On a Sunday afternoon last month, a “mob” of more than 20 people descended on a small confectionary shop in Silver Lake. They were not there to loot, though.
In an hour, each member of the group shelled out $20 or more at Valerie Confections for chocolates, cakes and jams.
Welcome to the latest craze hitting … the Internet?
The group was a so-called cash mob, a riff on the more popular idea of flash mobs, in which large groups are organized through social media to perform a seemingly random act such as singing, dancing or pillow fighting.
Cash mobs, though, have a more definite purpose.
“The ultimate goal is to get people to shop local,” said Lisa Gilmore, an online editor at NBC Universal who organized the first three cash mob events in Los Angeles, including the one in Silver Lake.
Gilmore was inspired by her high school friend, Andrew Samtoy, who is credited with starting the nationwide movement in Cleveland last September. Since then, the idea has caught on, with more than 150 cities at last count organizing cash mobs worldwide.
Gilmore organized the Valerie Confections mob through Facebook, Twitter and MeetUp, letting people know days in advance a time and place to meet near a targeted store. The store’s identity, however, is kept secret from the mob until the end. The store, however, is contacted a couple of days beforehand so it can prepare.
The stores are chosen, she said, based on three basic criteria: They must be locally owned, have character and somehow be giving back to the community. The stores do not pay to be selected.
Amanda Vernon, co-owner of Mindfulnest, whose Burbank handcrafted gifts store was the cash mob’s target in January, said the events are a big boost to small operators.
“Our biggest advertising is word of mouth,” Vernon said. “Having 15 or 20 new people walk through your door at once is huge.”