AUGUSTA — About 35 shoppers waited anxiously around the fountain in Market Square, each with $20 just waiting to be spent on something, somewhere downtown.

The assembled were a mob, a cash mob, specifically. Although as mobs go, they were fairly mellow. They weren’t looking to set cars on fire, loot or riot in the streets.

They were just looking to shop locally, meet people they didn’t know and have some fun. Where they were to shop was a secret.

“The suspense is killing me, this $20 is burning a hole in my pocket,” said Gabriel Adams, one of the mobbers, before Marlene Hempstead, organizer of the event, got things started by asking those gathered to “show me the money.”

They did, each holding up their $20.

“Let’s go, you’re going to follow me,” Hempstead said before going up Water Street to a crosswalk, crossing the street with a long line of followers behind and heading down Water Street to the secret mob target — Stacy’s Hallmark.

There, owner Stacy Gevais and her staff, who’d been warned the mob was coming, waited to welcome the well-behaved mob. Helpers on hand included her dad, Richard Cummings, who started the store in 1973 before retiring and having Stacy take over.

“I think they should be congratulated for doing something like this to make people interested in coming here,” Cummings said of the organizers of the event, as shoppers swarmed around the store. “Having this number of people in here these days, it’s unusual.”

Hempstead, who has a physical therapy clinic, Wellness Management Services, with her husband, Paul, in the Olde Federal Building, said they came up with the idea after leaving an Augusta Downtown Alliance meeting fired up about the downtown area and trying to think of something to help.

“I grew up downtown, downtown raised me, so I’m passionate about it,” she said. “I thought there must be some way we can bring our merchants and community together. That became the cash mob.”

She said downtown is the place where the community can help small businesses and small businesses can help the community.

Amanda Bartlett, Economic Restructuring Committee chairwoman for the Augusta Downtown Alliance, and a participant in the cash mob, said it was Augusta’s first.

Bartlett said the goal was to give people a reason to be excited about downtown.

“It’s trendy, it’s fresh,” Bartlett said. “This event says ‘downtown Augusta is ready to rock and roll!’ The secret is half the fun. That is part of the reason why this event is exciting and somewhat adventurous.”

Following their store mobbing, many participants convened at local watering hole Charlamagne’s, where owner Tina Charest concocted a special cash mob cocktail for the event.

Charest said the drink had orange and vanilla-flavored vodkas, Cointreau orange-flavored liqueur, orange juice and cranberry juice poured over ice and strained into a glass rimmed with orange sugar and garnished with an orange slice.

A guitarist performed on the sidewalk outside the bar.

Hempstead said similar events will be announced on the Augusta downtown cash mob Facebook page.

Stacy’s was selected at least in part because it has items for both men and women that cost $20 or less.

The alliance formed in October 2010 to help develop and promote downtown and Bartlett said over the past year 13 new businesses, 25 new jobs and an estimated $2.5 million in private investment have come to that part of the city.

Cash mobs have also been held elsewhere across the country.

The term cash mob, according to, comes from the same concept as a flash mob, in which a group of people are called together for a short period of time. Flash mobs generally involve dancing in a public spot. Cash mobs, on the other hand, are meant to encourage people to support local businesses and stimulate the local economy, according to organizers.

Adams, after spending his $20, said the event was fun.

“I love Stacy’s,” said Adams, owner of downtown business Garbriel’s Jewelry Design and Repair. “And I love the downtown. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. And my family’s future depends on it.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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