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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

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. 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.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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