TODAY   |  May 01, 2012

‘Cash mobs’ spend to support small businesses

In an effort to support struggling small businesses, “cash mobs” commit to spending at least $20 in a store, responding to a call sent out over social media. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>>> we are back now at 7:43 with a social movement that's sweeping the country. so-called cash mobs. people meeting up to help small business owners. nbc's janet shamlian is at a store in los angeles that was recently hit by one. if that's the right terminology. janet, good morning to you.

>> matt, good morning. yeah, in this case a visit from the mob is actually a good thing. what started as one guy's idea to save a small, struggling business has since turned into a city by city, nationwide effort, and it's all fueled by social media .

>> reporter: you've heard of flash mobs where a crowd suddenly assembles and breaks into song. now a new sensation, with a focus not on dancing, but on dollars. this is the start of a cash mob.

>> this is where we're shopping.

>> reporter: on a street corner in los angeles , 40 people have answered a call sent out on social media .

>> welcome to the cash mob!

>> reporter: it's a mob any business would welcome. within an hour, they'll spend more than $1,000 at the soda pop shop. a family owned store that can use the business. there's no real requirement to be part of one of these cash mobs. organizers ask only that participants spend $20 in the store that's chosen. with cash registers ringing it's friendly chaos. what's it like to have all these people in here right now?

>> it's fun.

>> reporter: in just six months more than 200 mobs have descended on small businesses . from maine to tennessee to oregon. the first was at this cleveland book store , planned by a man who has since seen his idea go global. why do you think this has picked up steam so quickly, in such a broadway?

>> i think it speaks a lot to people's desire to connect with their community, to benefit their community, to reinvigorate businesses in their communities.

>> hi. good to see you.

>> reporter: independent stores, often struggling, are embracing the help.

>> initially they're always a little skeptical, because there's no catch involved. we're saying, no, we're going to just come shop.

>> reporter: cash mobbers spread the word on social networks sites like facebook and twitter and recipients are finding it's not just one and done.

>> out of the 40 people that came in that night, i'd say 20 or 30 of them have been back, and i think they will be consistent customers.

>> reporter: cash mobs make a big statement on small business . it's no secret there's been a squeeze on mom and pop stores like this one. the cash mobs are really just part of a bigger effort to make people more aware of these main street type businesses. matt, back to you.

>> all right, janet shamlian in los angeles this morning. janet, thank you very much. up