Tisha DiFelice woke up to unexpected news.
The mob, she learned, was coming to her store — the Secret Tampa Cash Mob, that is.
The new community group had chosen DiFelice's boutique, Tate & Tilly, as its very first hit.
Cash mob members began spilling into the gift and accessories shop at 10 a.m. Saturday. Each had vowed to spend at least $10 to boost the small business.
A friend of DiFelice's called her after hearing on an early morning TV newscast that mobsters would target Tate & Tilly. "I'm like, really?" DiFelice said of that call. "I thought it was awesome."
Kim Kenney, a Carrollwood entrepreneur, is the mob boss.
The 36-year-old recently sold her accounting firm and closed a financial planning business. She decided to spend her time helping others.
"I've been sitting at home for the last month doing nothing," said Kenney, whose husband, Tom, is a partner in an advertising agency. "This is what I came up with."
The idea for the Secret Tampa Cash Mob came to her when she read a story online about a similar event in Ohio. In the past few months, cash mobs have popped up in cities ranging from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Detroit, San Diego, Buffalo, N.Y., Knoxville, Tenn., and Scranton, Pa.
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LocalShops1, a group founded by former Tampa Bay Times designer Ester Venouziou, partnered with Awake Pinellas to start cash mobs in Pinellas County in January. So far, the group has hit two St. Petersburg stores, Haslam's Book Store and Craftsman House gallery and cafe, with a third mob event planned for March. Participants are encouraged to wear red and spend $10.
Cash mobs are gaining a reputation as alternatives to dancing and singing flash mobs. Instead of informing people through Twitter to suddenly appear for random dance or social experiments — some of which have led to uncontrolled crowds and provided opportunists an easy way to steal from stores — cash mobs focus their efforts on giving.
"We need to show support in the community by giving (small businesses) support because they've taken on risks and responsibilities," Kenney said.
Kenney began a Facebook group Jan. 25 for the Secret Tampa Cash Mob, starting with just three people. The group stays private so stores don't catch on that they might be visited next.
"You have to be invited by a friend," she explained.
Still, Secret Tampa Cash Mob has quickly grown to 202 members.
The idea is for members to vote periodically on which Tampa area business they want to target. Once a month, they'll head to the chosen store and spend a minimum of $10 each. At checkout, they identify themselves as members of the mob.
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The rules are strict. Members can't nominate their own business, and small businesses can't be a part of the group if they want to be nominated. Chosen businesses must be "off the beaten path." There is no fee to join the Tampa group.
Tate & Tilly was the secret mob's first target. Mobsters had from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — the store's normal business hours — to shop. They perused the store right along with regular customers.
They said $10 is a price they can afford.
"Everyone spends $10 a month on something trivial," mob member Kelly Carlson said. "But if we can spend it on something that goes right back into our economy and we're supporting our local business owners, it's worthwhile."
Tate & Tilly houses 10 small boutique areas that are leased by vendors. Merchandise priced from $5 to about $120 includes beach bags, dresses, frames, candles, sports team accessories and jewelry. Designer names include Tyler candles, Mud Pie accessories, Lindsay Phillips shoes and Chamilia jewelry.
The store saw an increase of 160 percent in sales over a normal Saturday, DiFelice said. There weren't a lot of high-priced tickets, but the quantity far exceeded the average customer flow.
"It was a very, very positive experience for us," she said.
Erin Pike bought a bracelet for her daughter's upcoming birthday.
"I think $10 is a small amount to have to spend to be able to show your support," Pike said. "If enough people come together, $10 makes a major difference to a business."
And, she says, she's happy to have found a new place to shop.
"I saw other things that they have in here that I didn't realize they have," she said. "Now that I see that it's here, I'll come back again because it's a nice place."
That's exactly the kind of outcome Kenney had hoped for.
"It builds brand awareness for the store. A lot of these stores that we're targeting may not have destination traffic where people come and drive to that place to shop," Kenney said. "These are places that you may not know even existed."
Sarah Gottlieb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.