PORTLAND, Maine — Hoping to take advantage of the Portland community’s enthusiasm for supporting local stores, a new website organized a “Cash Mob” Thursday night. Nearly 50 people gathered in Monument Square armed with $20 bills and overwhelmed nearby Longfellow Books with business.

Stuart Gersen, co-owner of the victimized book store, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

“This puts more people in the store than all day today and all day yesterday,” Gersen said. “We maybe got a few days like this before Christmas.”

The dose of cash was welcomed, but the event succeeded in another way as well. It shone a spotlight on the “Buy Local” movement, said Suzanne Gagnon, an office manager and outreach leader for the organizing group, Local Thunder.

“Every little bit helps, and it’s also another way to draw attention to the local economy in a fun way,” Gagnon said.

Event organizer Local Thunder is the group behind the fledgling website www.gr8PortlandME.com, which keeps a comprehensive directory of Portland businesses by type and highlights activities being held in the city.

“Mobbers” weren’t told in advance of the 5:30 p.m. gathering time which store had been chosen for “attack,” adding an element of spontaneity to the rush.

Those behind the counter of the shop had no complaints about getting mobbed.

“I only recognize a few of these people,” Gersen said. “So this could be a lot of new customers, which is probably as important as the $20 they’re carrying. … You know how much effort businesses go through to get people through the door? I don’t know how much this is worth in advertising.”

The Cash Mob trend was first conceived by Ohioan Andrew Samtoy, and the local shopping bursts have spread in popularity, with an International Cash Mob Day ready to launch in more than 200 downtowns Saturday.

Chris Hourcle was one of the participants in the Portland Cash Mob on Thursday night, and he said he first heard of such an event being held in another city. So he was enthusiastic about taking part when he realized a Cash Mob was going to be held in Maine’s largest city, too.

“I think any business would appreciate something like this,” he said before the last few stragglers joined the bunch in Monument Square. “Let’s say 30 people come out with $20 apiece. That’s $600 in business in a short period of time.”

Locally, the collection of about 50 shoppers represented about $1,000 being poured into the Portland economy, and that’s before the group gravitated toward Eve’s at the Garden restaurant for a special follow-up social hour.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.