Ice cream in the winter can be difficult, especially for locally owned businesses like O Town Ice Cream. A regular business day in January, however, turned into a influx of cash.
Rosanna McGinnis moved to the area in 2016 and was looking for ways to make new friends. She also wanted to support her local businesses.
Enter: the Cash Mob. McGinnis found a Cash Mob in another city and decided it would be the perfect addition to Opelika.
Pre-COVID-19, cash mobs were groups that met up to have a social event or get drinks. There, they would decide on a business to patron and a month to go. When they went, they would spend up to $20 at said store.
“The collective spending is really where the power is at for a Cash Mob,” McGinnis said.
Sadly, the Opelika Cash Mob sat idle for nearly five years until recently — when someone stumbled upon the Facebook group in November and began sharing it with friends. The first Cash Mob event took place on Jan. 23 at O Town Ice Cream.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a hefty toll on many local business in Auburn and Opelika. The Cash Mob events encourage people to shop local and support businesses during a trying time.
“It was wonderful that they chose us and it was a big surprise,” said Angela George, O Town Ice Cream owner.
The Opelika Cash Mob told O Town prior to the 23 so that it could plan accordingly.
“They were really good about letting us know so that we could prepare staff and food to sell,” George said.
George said nearly 300 people, roughly 40 transactions, came from the Opelika Cash Mob that day.
“We saw a lot of new faces,” George said. “A lot of people that had never come to try it, did try it and since the Cash Mob have been back.”
O Town offers both indoor and drive-thru options for orders. In addition, they are not limited to ice cream alone. The shops serves lunch Tuesday through Sunday, as well as a specialty breakfast on Thursday and Fridays. eCards are also available to be purchased online and used in stores.
The Opelika Cash Mob didn’t stop at OTown. The CashMob surprised Twice Baked (909 S. Railroad Ave.) in February.
“[Twice Baked is] a black-owned business and that is also something I really want to make sure we are high-lighting,” McGinnis said. “That we give minority-owned businesses extra shoutouts.”
The Cash Mob’s business of choice for March was Game-Time Hobbies, which caters to a variety of board games, playing card games and more. The group’s hope is that month by month they will be able to alternate between restaurant and retail, McGinnis said.
There is no rhyme or reason for how McGinnis chooses her businesses. She simply has three criteria: locally-owned, products for both men and women and an experience that can be purchased for under $20, she said. To be considered, or to join the group, simply answer a few questions on the Facebook page to be added.
“Concentrated spending is really where the magic happens,” McGinnis said. “If we dilute it too much, it just doesn’t have the same effect.”
The group is focusing on just one business a month for now, though they are open to expanding in the future.
“While I started this to make friends, now … It is just a way for me to give back to Opelika,” McGinnis said. “My family and I love it here. And we just really wanna see all of the neat and local shops that we love so much thrive.”
Ali Brewer, the head of Accounting for a Property Management Firm in Auburn, wanted to join McGinnis’ vision. After seeing her friends tag the Opelika Cash Mob on Facebook, Brewer did some digging and came up empty when trying to find one in Auburn. She formed her own group, almost immediately, and it began on Jan. 23.
They had 850 members before the Auburn Cash Mob’s first event at the Auburn Popcorn Company on Feb. 13. Afterward — the group had grown to nearly 1200.
“The owner compared it to a pre-COVID, major-SEC-opponent football game day,” Brewer said.
The members soon decided that they wanted to squeeze both a restaurant and a retailer into each month. The Auburn Cash Mob decided to focus their resources on Frou Frou Florals on Feb. 20. The florist in the Bodegas at Midtown on Opelika Road was chosen randomly. Jess Margeson, the owner of the store, sold 50 of her mason jar arrangements that day.
“The owner of Frou Frou Florals is … one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met in my life,” Brewer said. “She was just so grateful and that just makes it worth it.”
The group promoted The Mason Jar (1936 S. College St.) in March.
Brewer admits that one of her favorite parts of the Auburn Cash Mob is getting to know the owners.
If you are in interested in joining the Auburn Cash Mob, you can find them on Facebook as well.
“I want to see these places succeed,” Brewer said. “Hindsight is 20/20… But I hope that we will make a difference starting in 2021.”
Photos By Josh Fisher