http://alibi.com/food/44096/article.html
Food
‹‹ V.22 No.9 | February 28 - March 6, 2013

Food for Thought

Mob Mentality

By Eric Castillo

CashMobbers meet up at local eateries before hitting their surprise target.
Eric Castillo
CashMobbers meet up at local eateries before hitting their surprise target.

No doubt you’ve heard the numerous purported benefits of shopping at local businesses. It’s an effective way to keep money in the Albuquerque economy, and local shops help add unique character to our community. Supporting local businesses rewards the owners who have put their livelihood at stake to offer goods and services to those in their own city. And if you ever have a question or need help with purchasing decisions, the level of service a local shop owner provides often surpasses that of a chain.

The mob descends on The Octopus and the Fox boutique at ABQ CashMob’s January event.
Eric Castillo
The mob descends on The Octopus and the Fox boutique at ABQ CashMob’s January event.

Now, a social-media based organization is seeking to highlight these benefits through an unconventional means: cash mobbing.

Sam Hufnagel, a 22-year-old mixed martial arts teacher and independent film maker, is the organizer of ABQ CashMob, a group of Albuquerque residents who meet up each month to spend their cash en masse at local businesses.

ABQ CashMob has been organizing regular events since March 2011. The first cash mob met up at Duran’s Station on Menaul where Hufnagel told everyone the surprise destination: St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. The mobbers then moved on to the shop and spent as much money as they could.

Eric Castillo

That’s a pretty typical scenario for one of their cash mobs. Each location is kept a secret until the group gathers for the event. Weeks ahead of time, the restaurant meeting place is announced through their Facebook page, and subscribers are notified through email.

In the past they’ve met in places all over the city like Kelly’s Brew Pub in Nob Hill, Nicky V’s Pizzeria on the Westside, Piggy’s on Central and The Daily Grind in East Downtown. They even huddled outside a food truck in a parking lot for their December event.

Some cash mobs in other cities choose to keep the targeted location under wraps by meeting at a parking lot or other public area. Hufnagel decided from the onset that he wanted to include a local place to eat as the meeting point. It makes for a good way to increase the group’s economic impact, but it also gives participants a chance to eat together and get to know one another.

Now, a social-media based organization is seeking to highlight these benefits through an unconventional means: cash mobbing.

Mobbers are a mix of mostly twentysomethings, many with kids in tow, and some older folks. The crowd, ranging in number from 20 to 40, is easy to identify. Each wears a bright yellow ABQ CashMob Participant button pinned to their shirt. And even though they often take up a good number of seats, the restaurant and business owners are happy to host them.

Eric Castillo

Hufnagel takes the matter of choosing a deserving business seriously. The obvious requirements include being locally-owned and based entirely within Albuquerque. But there are other criteria to consider, especially gauging which businesses have the biggest needs that a cash mob can help alleviate. The two biggest advantages that ABQ CashMob can bring to a business are the cash flow from the extra foot traffic and the free publicity. “The free advertisement is really important to these small, struggling businesses because they can’t afford advertising on their own,” Hufnagel explains. “Word of mouth is the way they spread.”

ABQ CashMob doubles down on the free publicity by promoting the businesses through Facebook both during and after the event. Mobbers are also encouraged to tweet and share their experience online. After the mob, Hufnagel reports the total dollars spent at each local business to show the group’s economic impact. Mobbers have spent amounts ranging from $700 to over $1000 at their events. Since those dollars are invested at a local business, the money stays in and strengthens Albuquerque’s local economy.

Though the schedule was a little more sporadic at the beginning, ABQ CashMob has settled on setting aside the first Saturday of each month for their events. The group meets at 1 p.m. to eat for about an hour before migrating to the targeted location.

In the past, the group has mobbed places like Birdland and Peacecraft in Nob Hill and some of the shops in Old Town. For their January event, the group took a trip to The Octopus and the Fox in East Downtown.

Hufnagel says he has seen firsthand how ABQ CashMob has influenced people’s buying habits while making a direct impact on local businesses. People often ask him what he gets out of organizing these events. Besides the gratification of shopping local he adds, “I get the satisfaction of helping out a family or a business owner who’s struggling. That is really the best part about it.”

ABQ CashMob’s next meetup will be 1 p.m. on March 2nd at the Church Street Cafe in Old Town. Visit facebook.com/AbqCashMob for more information.