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Cash mob craze continues in Tennessee’s oldest town

What started as an eight-week promotion to get people to shop in downtown Jonesborough has now become the social event of the season.
The town kicked off its We Dig Jonesborough campaign in August, focusing heavily on the newest trend in the effort to encourage area residents to buy local — cash mobs.
Cash mobs originated in Buffalo, N.Y., in August 2011, playing off the ever-popular flash mob trend.
Instead of breaking out into what appears to be an impromptu dance like participants do in flash mobs, those taking part in a cash mob all show up at a locally owned business on a designated date and time to spend $20 at the establishment.
The goal is to give such businesses a boost during tough economic times.
In Jonesborough, leaders have expanded on the cash mob concept to include weekly prizes for participants as well as a grand prize to be given away at the culmination of the We Dig Jonesborough campaign in December.
“We’ve been very happy with its success and all the merchants that have been mobbed so far have been very pleased,” said Melinda Copp, event coordinator for the Town of Jonesborough. “We see anywhere from 50 to 100 people come out each week. And the majority of them are spending more than $20.”
In fact, the positive response to the cash mobs that have already taken place led to the town’s recent decision to extend the campaign through the end of the year.
“It’s just kind of become a little social event,” Copp said. “People just come and support it each week. They’re excited to see what each store has.”
The effort has been successful largely in thanks to the contributions of a core group of local residents dedicated to the cause.
“It wouldn’t be successful without the return local customers who have really embraced it,” Copp said. “We have a good 15 to 20 people that come pretty much every week.”
Some local residents are venturing into downtown stores for the first time to take part in the weekly mobs.
“We have had a lot of people tell us, ‘I don’t get downtown that much and this has just encouraged me to come down and shop local,’” Copp explained. “A lot of them said they didn’t know what the downtown businesses had to offer before now.”
The added exposure offered to businesses by the cash mob craze will likely improve their business in the future, too, Copp said. That’s probably part of the reason seven more downtown businesses have asked to be mobbed.
“Since we’ve had several more stores want to be included, we are going to extend it,” Copp said. “We’re going to take the weekend of the (National Storytelling Festival) off and then do the cash mobs the remaining three weekends in October.”
After that trio of cash mobs, the campaign will again take a hiatus, returning to action on Saturday, Nov. 24, and running through Saturday, Dec. 15.
“After the last one on Dec. 15, we will be giving away our grand prize,” Copp said. “It will be worth over $1,000. I’m calling it the ‘Jonesborough Sampler.’”
Included in the Jonesborough Sampler will be season passes to the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, the Historic Jonesborough Bluegrass Series, Storytelling Live and Wetlands Water Park. It will also include two tickets to the annual Garden Gala in Jonesborough, $50 gift certificates to all downtown restaurants, a subscription to the Herald & Tribune and more.
Everyone who participated in the cash mobs will be entered to win the grand prize.