Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — In one corner sat Miami-Dade County School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Holding court in another corner was Bill Diggs, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce. State Attorney candidate Rod Vereen walked around and blew kisses to the ladies. A jazz band’s melodies wafted along the street. Indoors, Shenita Hunt belted live, familiar tunes.
It was Miami’s first “cash mob,” held Saturday at Crescendo Jazz and Blues Lounge, 2201 Biscayne Blvd. And only in Miami would the scene be different than in any other city.
“Cash mob” is a grassroots effort fueled by social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The idea is to encourage people to converge on a business at a particular time and date and spend at least $20 each, “mobbing” the place with cash. Some 30 states and many cities reportedly have been holding cash mobs, after the first, held last summer in Buffalo, N.Y., drew about 100 to shop at a wine store.
Miami’s cash mob had a twist. It was intended for a black-owned business. Most cash mobs have little or no backing, with support coming mostly from email lists and friends’ lists on social media. But Crescendo’s cash mob looked like a Who’s Who of South Florida politics and law Saturday. The program handed out at the door included a one-page message from Diggs.
Some of the chatter was a little emotional as patrons lamented what they called a less-than-welcome approach Miami Beach has taken toward Urban Beach Weekend which played out simultaneously with the cash mob.
Irvin Daphnis, a Miami attorney who was having dinner with friends, said blacks need to be mindful of their dollars and spend their money where it is welcome.
“The color of the dollar may be green but we need to be conscious of the black dollar,” Daphnis said. “We need to spend money at black-people-friendly businesses.”
Diggs said black businesses need the exposure that a cash mob affords. He said soon Cash Mob Noir, as this one was called, will be a monthly event that would be administered through a chamber committee and geared at showcasing black businesses in Miami-Dade and, later, in Broward through partnerships.
Fabiola Fleuranvil, a member of the chamber’s Young Professionals Network, said the cash mob took two weeks to organize. When she was contacted about doing it in Miami, she said, she immediately thought of Crescendo, a two-year-old restaurant in one of Miami’s trendiest neighborhoods that struggled through its first year and is hanging on now after long-term construction on the boulevard hampered parking and access.
The key to a successful cash mob is using your networks to spread the word, said Fleuranvil, who sent emails about the event to her contacts through an organization called Identify, Connect, Activate the Black Accomplished or ICABA that honors blacks in South Florida, and also the South Florida HBCU Alumni Alliance.
“We didn’t spend a dime on advertising. I sent the information to my most influential networks and this is the result,” Fleuranvil said, gesturing toward the people sitting on the restaurant’s patio.
Saturday’s cash mob at Crescendo made a visible difference. Jasmine Johnson, daughter of owners Gwen and John Johnson, said at 5 p.m., on typical Saturdays the place would cater to five tables of diners and the crowd doesn’t pick up until after 8 p.m.
“It’s incredible; we have already had 70 people show up,” Johnson said. Close to 8 p.m., when the cash mob was supposed to end, people were still pouring in, saying they received an email inviting them to come to support a local black-owned business.
The Johnsons did not disclose how much was made during the cash mob but said it was definitely a major boost to their business and that the support continued the next day.
Shantura Fulton, who was arriving after 7:30 p.m. Saturday with her friend Safiya Johnson, said she heard about the cash mob also through an email.
The North Miami resident said she invited her friend to come along because she knew Crescendo deserved their support. Fulton had been to the restaurant before for dinner. “The food’s great,” she said, as she headed to the bar to order two drinks.
“There are not too many black-owned businesses, so we wanted to show our support,” said Fulton, who works at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center.
Photo: COURTESY OF TeeKay
BLACK GOING GREEN: School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, entertainer Shenita Hunt, State Attorney candidate Rod Vereen and Bill Diggs, at Crescendo's Cash Mob Noir, May 26.