River’s End Bookstore holds cash mob

Oswego State students and local citizens shop for books at the River’s End Bookstore on April 9. (Katie Ports | The Oswegonian)
Oswego State students and local citizens shop for books at the River’s End Bookstore on April 9. (Katie Ports | The Oswegonian)

The River’s End Bookstore in Oswego was flooded with customers April 9 as a result of a student-run cash mob.

A cash mob, similar in theme and name to a “flash mob,” is a spontaneous rush of patrons upon a business to boost its sales. A cash mob allows locals to come together during a brief window of time and flood the store to show support.

Oswego State creative writing Assistant Professor Donna Steiner, who is the faculty adviser of the event, said the first local cash mob was successfully orchestrated last spring by the students of her first Literary Citizenship class. The course is meant to provide students with the tools to become successful, active writers in the community.

“The students get experience in planning an event, which is a really big thing for writers, because you plan your own readings,” Steiner said. “So these are all aspiring writers and creative people, so it pertains to what their future looks like and it’s just kind of a cool activity that benefits everyone. Everyone that’s involved gets something out of it.”

Their efforts culminated in about 150 customers participating in the two-and-a-half hour window, according to Steiner. Several students said the experience taught them the importance of networking and gave them a taste of the work involved in planning a community-wide event. Together they made fliers, created social media accounts, made radio announcements, put up posters and spoke to classes.

“You know, we’ve been told so many times in college that the main thing you have to do is network, kind of go out and tell someone to tell somebody else,” said Kaitlin Ports, a senior creative writing major and student in the Literary Citizenship class. “It’s not just saying, ‘Oh come to this event.’ It’s saying, ‘Come to this event and then tell everyone you know about it, and tell them to tell everyone they know about it.’”

More than skills, the students spoke of a newfound appreciation for the Oswego community and for the opportunities that stores like the River’s End Bookstore provide writers.

“We learned a lot about literary citizenship and how different artists and writers and readers need a community,” psychology major Jacqueline Blocker said.  “And so a local bookstore is one way to have that sort of community.”

During the course of the project, the students said they established lasting connections with the staff and owners. Steiner’s course has conducted class in the bookstore more than once, and during that time the students learned about the store’s history, its goals and its commitment to writers such as themselves.

“There’s just an overall value on community,” Ports said. “Like the bookstore, tied with the library, tied with the school–it’s just this certain sense of community that if we didn’t have I feel like there would be a void. I feel like it enriches the value of the town so much.”

The connections forged in the process of the event don’t only flow one way. River’s End Bookstore has long been involved with the campus and the creative writing department, hosting readings, art shows and release parties for the Great Lake Review, Oswego State’s student-run literary magazine.

The bookstore’s co-owner Bill Riley said he’s spoken to classes on campus and even had a few classes held in the store. He said acting as a conduit between the local and the collegiate communities has always been a priority for the store.

“When we opened the store 17 years ago, we wanted to create a space that was conducive to everyone,” Riley said. “Inclusive, not exclusive, that would be a place where town and gown could meet. And we think that in over 17 years, we’ve accomplished that.”

Events like the cash mob are a helpful financial boost for small businesses in the area, even ones as healthy as River’s End Bookstore. By his own account, when the first cash mob was proposed to him, Riley was beyond himself. Last year, the mob was so successful that the store made their entire month’s earnings in one day. Beyond the students of Oswego State, Riley said the success of cash mobs is largely due to increased interest in independent businesses.

“The other thing that’s contributing to the viability of that is this whole ‘buy local, shop local’ movement that’s been very active for years now, but has really begun to take hold,” Riley said. “We really have seen it over the last five years that people understand the economic impact on supporting locally owned, independent businesses in the community or anywhere. It works.”