Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 30, 2012

Cash mob gives helping hand to Mountain View grocer

Phenomenon aimed at supporting mom-and-pop businesses

by Daniel DeBolt

Ava's Downtown Market and Deli in Mountain View saw a spike in business last weekend when it was visited by an organized "Cash Mob" that socialized and spent money in the store.

Owners Ann and Juan Origel say they saw a 20 percent increase in business on Saturday during "International Cash Mob Day," a variation on the flash mob phenomenon designed to bring attention and revenue to deserving mom-and-pop businesses.

The Castro Street store's gradual transformation from a mostly Asian market has been hampered by a lack of funds to pay for many improvements, including a $300,000 refrigeration system and a deli counter to draw in lunchtime traffic.

While the event didn't bring in a tidal wave of money, Juan Origel said he hoped the event would help raise awareness about the store and its improvements.

"What a phenomenal community," he said after Saturday's event. "It motivates me to keep going, really."

The event was organized by resident Marn-Yee Lee who read about the grocery store in the Mountain View Voice.

Reflecting on the event, Lee said: "I found meeting other members of the community while shopping there on Saturday was a reward in itself. It makes Mountain View feel more like home, like a small, tight-knit community, a less anonymous place."

Since buying the store in October 2011, the Origels have found allies among neighborhood residents who have wanted a "neighborhood-serving" grocery store downtown for years and have seen several proposals to subsidize one with city funds fail. On Saturday many of them showed their support.

"It's super convenient, and Juan is a really nice guy," downtown resident Jeff Segall said. "I hope the city does what it can to encourage it."

"My husband and I really appreciate the convenience of the location," downtown resident Deb Henigson said. "It's within walking and biking distance for us. It's a great resource for the neighborhood."

Explaining why they supported the market, many pointed to the availability of organic foods, including grass-fed beef, and locally produced foods — including Crunchfuls cereal, Whole Grain Connection pasta and Acme Bread. And the market sells Marianne's ice cream from Santa Cruz, Henigson added.

Downtown resident Carter Coleman said he hoped that Ava's could become like San Francisco's popular Bi-Rite market, which markets itself as "a neighborhood market feeding our community with love, passion and integrity."

"We're just as cool as they are, right?" Coleman said of Bi-Rite's customers.

Staff Writer Daniel DeBolt can be emailed at ddebolt@mv-voice.com. The Voice is the Weekly's sister paper.

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