Despite not being able to dine in at restaurants or browse local retail stores, one local shopping group is determined to stick to its mission of supporting local business.
The Soldotna Cash Mob, first started by Rhonda McCormick in April of last year, is a group of Kenai Peninsula residents who meet monthly to eat at a locally owned peninsula restaurant and do some shopping at a local retail store, providing a quick influx of cash to those businesses.
The original concept is simple: Every month, McCormick announces a date and time on the Cash Mob Facebook group for everyone to meet at a restaurant that she has chosen and get together for food and drinks.
After about an hour at the restaurant, McCormick announces the location of the “secret shopping place.” The mob then heads to location in question with the agreement that everyone spends about $20 on items in the store. McCormick said the concept was working well, until congregating in groups became a thing of the past.
With the health mandates issued by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that limit operations for all but “essential services,” many retail stores in the area have closed, and restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery options, so the Cash Mob has had to change how they operate.
March was the first month that McCormick had to change things up.
“Originally I posted on the Facebook group that I was canceling March’s event, which was sad because I already had the restaurant picked out,” McCormick said. “Then people started commenting and suggesting that we do takeout orders and online shopping, and I thought that was a great idea, so I had someone help me set that up.”
The restaurant that had been chosen for the month of March was Firehouse Subs. Rather than have everyone dine in — which, legally, isn’t an option at the moment — McCormick told the Facebook group to place their pickup orders on March 31 and to let the restaurant know that the order was for the cash mob. After looking through the orders that had been placed and had mentioned the Cash Mob, McCormick reported that Firehouse fed over 50 “mobsters” that day.
The shopping experience was also done virtually. Valerie Humphrey, owner of Lucky 13 Fashions, hosted a livestream on the Cash Mob Facebook group where she showed off the products she had available as well as their color and size variations.
Each product had an order number, so as Humphrey was displaying clothes, people could comment on which item they wanted to purchase. Humphrey then reviewed the orders, packaged and shipped them out, with each participant receiving an invoice via email. Humphrey also offered participants extras, like gift cards and giveaways, and the video remained on the Facebook group so that anyone who missed the livestream could still have a chance to watch and place an order. After a few days, McCormick said that at least 19 people had placed orders with Lucky 13 Fashions.
For their first month as an active group, the Cash Mob ate at Odie’s Deli and shopped at Kate’s Flowers, both in Soldotna. McCormick said that 23 people showed up to their first event, and since then attendance has fluctuated between 20 and 40 people each month. The Facebook group just recently exceeded 500 members, and McCormick said that more than 100 people have joined the group since businesses have gone on lockdown.
McCormick said she’s noticed that, because so many businesses are struggling to stay afloat at the moment, more and more people are actively trying to shop and eat local. In a time when businesses have seen huge drops in their revenue, McCormick feels that the cash infusion provided by her mob is more important than ever, and she sees the increase in the group’s numbers combined with the fact that businesses are now reaching out to her about the program as signs that her group is making a difference.
The businesses selected for the month of April have not yet been announced, but McCormick said to keep an eye on the Soldotna Cash Mob Facebook group for updates.