San Luis Obispo’s First Cash Mob

9 May

A cluster of people crowded in front of Phoenix Bookstore, Monday, in downtown SLO. At six o’clock sharp the megaphone sharply screeched to life, indicating the start of San Luis Obispo’s first ever cash mob.

“The rules are simple! Make at least three friends, and spend at least ten dollars. If you are too full on books, just hand the money to Bruce. God knows he needs it,” shouted Alan Cooper, head of Save Our Downtown.

The crowd chuckles and rushes—well, steadily files—into the narrow used book shop.

A cash mob is an event, inspired by the Internet sensation where choreographed dancers rush the streets. But instead of entertainment, the intent is to bring customers into starving small businesses, thus creating creating a tighter community dynamic.

Imagine it as that moment in It’s a Wonderful Life, where everyone in the town comes to support George Bailey and his failing Savings and Loan. Money is not being stuffed everywhere to the tune of Christmas bells, but there is a love the community has for its small businesses and owners.

“We want to keep the charm that diverse shopping opportunities allow people.”

This event was set up by  Save Our Downtown, a movement against chains and larger corporations coming to San Luis Obispo. Alan Cooper, the head of the organization, said the Cash Mob was an attempt to rally the community. “The idea is to keep the town from becoming anonymous” said Cooper. “We want to keep the charm that diverse shopping opportunities allow people.”

According to Cooper, a small business makes three times more total revenue for the community than a chain store. This is because they hire internally, and the money is not sent to a large corporate headquarters.

The cash mob was largely an attempt to attract a younger crowd, with a Facebook event and more online material. Cooper says. “It is important for students to discover there is more to downtown than just Higuera Street.” He hopes to inspire appreciation for more interesting shops, as they are seemingly neglected by the newer residents.

The "mob" in the front section of the Phoenix Bookstore

Entering the shop, the shelves are filled with previously loved books, obvious from the multitude of cracks running down their spines. The characteristic musty smell with a hint of aging vanilla lingers subtly in the air, the piles of yellowing pages either stacked or sprawled around different corners. It is cluttered, and yet quietly romantic, enticing the treasure hunting customers to spend hours browsing the shelves for a forgotten favorite, or maybe a new interest.

Justin Shiu, a planning major at Cal Poly, scanning the shelves at Phoenix

Justin Shiu, a graduate student at Cal Poly, is one of the students involved in the Save Our Downtown project, creating both the website and managing the Facebook page. “I haven’t been to this store since my first year, but I definitely need to come more often,” says Shiu as he thumbs through a large book on trains in the shelf marked ‘Transportation.’ “I am a planning major. I love this stuff.”

Lana Russell-Hurd, who is also a graduate student involved with the program, says she comes to the shop about once or twice a quarter to explore. “I like to pick up a novel or two. Takes me away from Planning for a while,” she said with a smile.

According the Russell-Hurd, they are planning a couple more events. “We are thinking Linnea’s for the next event,” she said. Linnea’s is a small coffee shop located at Garden Street. It is a great place for studying, or getting a quick Chai.

Check out their Facebook page to stay up to date and help save downtown SLO, while maybe picking up a couple friends along the way.

The new additions to my bookshelf.

The new additions to my personal bookshelf. “Naked” by David Sedaris, and “Dubliners” by James Joyce


3 Responses to “San Luis Obispo’s First Cash Mob”

  1. ehusting May 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Great Post! I read an article in the Tribune about this event, and I wanted to learn more. You did a great job telling the story, and I felt as though I had attended the event. Good use of photos, and I really liked the use of YouTube videos. Your topics in the past have been very interesting, and I feel like they have been strong all the way through. Good Job.
    Possible Topic? The Swap Meet? 🙂

  2. learnbylivingcp May 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    This is an interesting concept. Have you considered doing a post (or posts) on SLO/Central Coast swapmeets/flea markets? I don’t even know if there is enough material to warrant writing a post about this.

    You could also pick a theme (art, music, etc) and create a calendar listing at least one event per month in that category. The Chamber of Commerce would probably have some info on various SLO events that happen annually.

  3. BrennaSwanston May 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    I absolutely love this. If I’d known this existed, I would have gone. I’ll subscribe to the facebook page.
    I also like the swapmeet idea. I’ve never been to one but always wanted to, so if you know of any around here, I’d be interested in reading about it!

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