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Cash mob to shop in Bellport Village

South Country Road looking east in Bellport Village

South Country Road looking east in Bellport Village on July 27, 2011. The road features the village's main shopping district. Credit: Carl Corry

On Saturday, Wallen’s Market -- a third-generation family-operated supermarket in Bellport -- will close its doors for good, making it one more victim of the economy and competition with big box stores.

On the same day, residents will gather in an effort to keep other mom-and-pop shops from meeting the same fate.

At 5 p.m., a group of about 40 is expected to meet at the Village Green for a cash mob, in which participants agree to shop at a designated store and spend at least $20.

Terri Hall, 53, is organizing the event. She said she learned about it from her sister-in-law, who owns a store in San Diego that was visited by a cash mob in December. Her sister-in-law saw about $800 in sales that day, Hall said.

“We all try to shop local,” said Hall, who has lived in Bellport for 17 years. “But sometimes, it’s not enough to have that little infusion of cash.”

The cash mob gained momentum last year with an event in Cleveland co-organized by resident Andrew Samtoy, 32. Friends of his in other cities -- including Los Angeles and Boston -- followed suit, and now Samtoy keeps a blog to track the progress of cash mobs around the country and advise those organizing them.

He said the cash mob is an evolution of a flash mob, but with a more productive principle. He said the idea was fleshed out while he was attending a leadership conference last year, and the Cleveland cash mob was held last November.

“We just thought for small business that would have been fantastic,” said Samtoy, a lawyer. “It wouldn’t be a cure for their woes, but at least it’s a little bit of extra help.”

After the mob, according to Hall, the group heads to a local bar or restaurant to celebrate.

“So, we’re really helping two businesses in one evening,” she said.

Samtoy’s directions are to choose a store that has a large variety of items so everyone involved can find something that interests them, and to keep the location a secret -- except from the business owner -- until the day of the event.

Hall said she has talked to a few business owners in Bellport and was met with positive response, but she is sticking to the suggestions and keeping the location under wraps until Saturday.

Dianne Romano, president of the Bellport Chamber of Commerce, said she wasn’t aware of the event, but she commended the residents who were participating. She said that downtowns everywhere are suffering in this economic climate and cited Wallen’s as the prime example.

“We’re losing Wallen’s after 63 years,” she said. “I think that was a wake up call for people in Bellport.”

Bob Wallen, 71, who is the second generation in his family to own the supermarket, said the rise of big box stores in the area made the grocery market too competitive for him. He said he would imagine that all the locally owned stores in town are having a difficult time in this economy.

Wallen said he had heard mention of Saturday’s cash mob and thought it was a good idea, although too late to help his business.

“I thought, ‘Well, I closed a day too soon,” he said.

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