There's a mob in Ketchikan.
To boost business, Ketchikan enacts mob rule 021914 BUSINESS 1 Capital City Weekly There's a mob in Ketchikan.

Rosie Roppel Photo

Judy Zenge, Jacqueline Meck, Jackie Williams, Ann McKim, Doug Ward, Jeanette Rosier, Desiree Stevens, and Susan Fisher participated in Ketchikan's December cash mob. The mob, which visited Forget-Me-Not Sweater Shoppe, is a program designed to support local businesses in Ketchikan.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Story last updated at 2/19/2014 - 2:31 pm

To boost business, Ketchikan enacts mob rule

There's a mob in Ketchikan.

Keep your fedoras and trench coats, put away torches and pitchforks.

This mob is carrying cash.

On Saturday, the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce will start the latest edition of its monthly Cash Mob. Forty or more people, organized in secret, will descend - cash and credit cards in hand - upon an unsuspecting Ketchikan business.

"They've been getting bigger and bigger," said Chelsea Goucher, executive director of the chamber. "It's really exciting. ... The owners have always been surprised, which is really fun."

The cash mob, which will hit its fourth victim on Saturday, is the brainchild of Judy Zenge, a former chamber president. She was inspired by a similar program in Phoenix, Ariz. Phoenix couldn't be much more different than the rainiest city in America, but the program has been an immense success.

Each month, the chamber's events committee picks a retail business. Chamber members spread the word in secret - usually on Facebook - and then ambush a business. Each attendee is asked to spend at least $20, and attendance has fluctuated between 20-50 people, Goucher said.

Ketchikan relies on the tourist trade, and that slows to a trickle in winter. "Our bookstore does surprisingly well in the offseason, but not well enough to be open year-round if we didn't have the summer revenue," said Parnassus Bookstore owner Charlotte Glover.

Glover's bookstore was invaded by the cash mob last month and said it was an awesome surprise. "It was a great vote of confidence for a new business and Ketchikan in the offseason," she said. "As far as revenue, it pretty much doubled our revenue for the week."

Glover, who took over the 28-year-old bookstore only seven weeks ago, said the mob was a huge boost to her confidence.

Ann McKim is a member of the chamber's events committee and said the event is a win-win for Ketchikan. "It's kind of bringing a little life downtown," she said.

The chosen retailers benefit, she said, and so does the chamber, which is picking up new retail members.

McKim said chambers of commerce are known for supporting industry, but this is a program that reaches out to mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar stores that are sometimes overlooked.

In addition to bringing immediate revenue, the program encourages Ketchikan residents to drop into a store they may never have visited before. "A lot of the retail stores here in town, it's like people had never gone into them before," Goucher said.

She recalled an incident at Twisted Tree, victim of the first mob: "There was a guy saying, 'Oh, I never knew this store had purses, so now I know what to get my girlfriend.' That's another thing that the cash mob does."

So far, Ketchikan's cash mob is unique in Alaska. While it has contemporaries in the Lower 48, none have sprouted in the 49th state. Goucher said there's opportunity for that to change. "It could work anywhere, but I think for cities like Sitka and Juneau, it'd be really cool," she said.