Lakeside store prepares for ‘mob’ bombardment

Chocolate Cravings owner Cathy Churcher displays some of the unique chocolate treats she sells in her Lakeside store, which will be the target of a “cash mob” later this month.
On April 14, the owner of Chocolate Cravings in Lakeside will be the target of a mob hit.

And she is thrilled about it.

The latest in a series of "cash mobs" to hit local businesses, tomorrow's flood of customers – organized and energized via social media and word of mouth – is designed to boost both revenue and awareness for local retailers.

For Cathy Churcher, whose business at Chocolate Cravings is generated mostly through farmers markets and wholesale accounts, the mob visit represents a chance to get traffic flowing through her lesser-known retail store.

"I could use a mob!" she said excitedly as she prepared dozens of chocolate bunnies for Easter. "Especially one that loves good chocolate – and then returns, and returns, and returns."

The term – a take-off on the "flash mobs" that have become a trend in recent years – was popularized in small towns in northern and western states, where residents wanted to show their support for family stores over big box retailers.

A recent item in The Week, for instance, described a cash mob staged by the residents of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, at a neighborhood, family-run hardware store. "[Customers were] buying up everything from light bulbs to fireplace grates," the item noted. "A chain email had encouraged Chagrin Falls residents to support the store, which opened in 1857, by spending $20 during the event. But many spent lots more than that."

'Now people know we're in Henrico!'
After reading an article about a cash mob that struck a similar mom-and-pop store in Wisconsin, Chesterfield resident Rainey Niklawski decided to try rounding up a crowd in the Richmond area.

Forming the RVA Local Patronage Mob, she picked a local business, posted a notice on Facebook and told her followers, "Let's give them an extraordinary day of patronage!"

Farm to Family, an organic market on Mechanicsville Turnpike, was the target of the first strike on February 4. More than 200 customers took the tiny market by storm, snapping up fresh produce, milk, and eggs and generating a week's worth of income in a single day, said co-owner Suzi Lilly after the onslaught.

"Vendors came, friends came – three minivans full of moms and kids came!" she said, noting that the children especially enjoyed the rabbits in the kids' area.

One of the best things about the cash mob, said Suzi Lilly, was that it brought in lots of first-time customers. Many visitors told her, "Oh, I've been meaning to come" – but it took the mob event to get them motivated and into the market.

Another benefit of the cash mob for Farm to Family, said Suzi's husband and co-owner, Mark Lilly, was the visibility it brought.

Because of the market's location on Mechanicsville Turnpike, he explained, potential patrons often assume the site is in Mechanicsville and think it is too far to drive. The Turnpike address also appears to befuddle GPS devices, leading to mistakes in directions and customers-to-be getting lost.

Many first-time visitors at the cash mob event were pleasantly surprised, said Mark Lilly, to find the market only a short distance off Interstate 64 across from The Showplace.

"Now people know we're in Henrico," he exulted. "Not Hanover!"

Supporting their own
At the community level, added Lilly, the cash mobs also make people more aware of other small, grass-roots businesses and new start-ups.

Since each mob target is allowed to nominate the next site, the Lillys selected another small business, Bombolini Pasta on West Main Street.

Posting the news of their Bombolini choice for their thousands of Facebook followers, the Farm to Family owners were able to help the event notice go viral. After Bombolini was mobbed, the next hit took place at Lucille's Bakery, and the bakery owners passed the mob to Chocolate Cravings.

"It's something that keeps feeding itself," said Lilly, who also celebrated his birthday at the mob event.

As Niklawski states on her Facebook page, "The idea isn't to mob every store in Richmond, but rather to highlight different businesses and get everyone talking and thinking local." Although it might be easier to stop by a big-box store and have everything in one place, says Niklawski, patronizing small businesses keep the money in the Richmond area and is simply the neighborly thing to do.

On Feb. 4, Suzi Lilly surveyed the busy market, savoring the sound of the cash register chiming non-stop, and heartily echoed the sentiment.

"It's amazing," she said appreciatively, "to see the community come together and support their own.

"It blows my mind!"

The RVA Local Patronage cash mob will visit Chocolate Cravings at 6929 Lakeside Avenue (in The Hub Shopping Center) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 14. For details, visit http://www.facebook.com/RVALocalPatronageMob.
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Fresh Air Fund seeks host families


The Fresh Air Fund, a program through which nearly 4,000 children from low-income New York City communities spend a summer with host families in communities along the East Coast and in southern Canada, is seeking hosts for the coming summer.

According to the organization, there is no such thing as a “typical” host family. First-time Fresh Air children are boys and girls, from seven to 12 years old. Children who are reinvited by host families may continue with The Fresh Air Fund through age 18 and can enjoy extended trips. > Read more.

Godwin student wins in statewide STEM essay contest

Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia Council on Women announced recently that Morgan Logsdon of Mills E. Godwin High School was one of five statewide winners of the sixth-annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Essay Contest for young women enrolled in their junior or senior year of high school.

The Council on Women established the contest to award scholarships to high school junior and senior young women who plan to pursue STEM careers at institutions of higher education. > Read more.

Varina meeting May 2 to address opioid crisis in Henrico


Varina District Supervisor Tyrone E. Nelson will hold a Community Conversations meeting Tuesday, May 2 to discuss the opioid epidemic in Henrico County.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Road. Nelson will be joined by County Manager John A. Vithoulkas and members of the Henrico Heroin Task Force for a discussion of heroin and opioid abuse and ways to prevent it. > Read more.

Baker ES to remain closed until fall


Baker Elementary School students will complete the 2016-17 school year at other locations and will return to a restored building in fall 2017, school leaders have decided.

The decision was made in order to provide ample time for repairs to be completed at the fire-damaged school and to avoid additional interruptions to instructional time. > Read more.

Henrico Police arrest 2 Georgia men in connection with January murder


Henrico Police have arrested and charged two Georgia men with first-degree murder in connection with the Jan. 18 murder of 36-year-old Lamont Cornelius Baldwin in the 1200 block of Dominion Townes Terrace.

Antonio Tyrone Johnson (above, left) and Santonio Rodrigus Brown (above, right), both 24 and both of Atlanta, were charged. Johnson also was charged with use of a firearm in commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon. > Read more.

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The Pocahontas Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society will meet at 7 p.m. at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The speaker will be Robert Wright, an environmental scientist who loves the animal and plant life of the Richmond region, and is fortunate enough to make a living exploring it. His talk, “Married to the Job: What's Not to LOVE About Environmental Science?” will provide a visual feast featuring Virginia flora and fauna found on projects that require environmental solutions. A short business meeting will follow the presentation. Admission is free and open to the public. For details, visit http://www.vnps.org/pocahontas. Full text

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