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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


Community

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Grab the kids and check out these fun family-friendly events taking place this weekend! Speed over to the Henrico Theatre for the film “Turbo” or watch “Dumbo” under the stars at Clarke-Palmore House Museum. Little ones can meet Thomas the Tank Engine at CMOR-Central or play at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

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