Want to help Gatlinburg? Shop.

In The Daily Dumpster Blog by S. Heather Duncanleave a COMMENT

What’s a cash mob? It’s a flash mob on a shopping trip.

Knoxville is sending Gatlinburg a somewhat unusual form of help as the small town’s businesses attempt to recover from a huge Nov. 28 fire and the tourism slump that has followed. Every weekend in January, a charter bus will transport Knoxville shoppers to provide a cash infusion to locally-owned businesses in the hard-hit Smoky Mountain town.

Flash mobs are sudden gatherings of people in a public place, which appear spontaneous but are usually organized in advance using social media. Sometimes they have a specific purpose – to make a political or social statement of some kind – but sometimes they are just for amusement value.

The idea for the Gatlinburg cash mob was the brainchild of David Bakewell, an architect and urban planner for the University of Tennessee system, who was concerned about friends who own a Gatlinburg restaurant and were worried about the effect of losing tourism traffic after the fires, says Lila Honaker, spokesperson for the cash mob effort. (Bakewell could not be reached for an interview because he is in Instanbul this week.)

Yes, you could drive to Gatlinburg on your own, but this trip enables you to socialize, ride in style, and target businesses that most need the boost. Participants will be able to wander downtown Gatlinburg but will be provided a list of two suggested shops, a restaurant and an attraction to visit. Those will be smaller local businesses, especially those whose employees were greatly affected by the fire. (The businesses won’t be announced ahead of time, adding an element of surprise to the social shopping trip.) The buses, which will depart at 6:15 p.m. each Friday and Saturday from REI in Bearden, are operated by Premier Transportation and have bathrooms, Wi-Fi access, USB outlets and flat screen televisions.

REI will be providing hot chocolate prior to departure, store coupons for all participants, and a prize to be given away on each trip. Tickets are $15 per person and are available online. Honaker says only six seats are currently taken by Tuesday, although the buses can seat 56.

Businesses or individuals can also sponsor the charter bus costs so that the ticket fares can be donated to the Dollywood Foundation My People Fund, which provides $1,000 each month for up to six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires.

Keep tabs on the trips and learn more at the “Let’s Help Gatlinburg – Cash Mob” event page on Facebook.

S. Heather Duncan has won numerous awards for her feature writing and coverage of the environment, government, education, business and local history during her 15-year reporting career. Originally from Western North Carolina, Heather has worked for Radio Free Europe, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, and several daily newspapers. Heather spent almost a dozen years at The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., where she spent most of her time covering the environment or writing project-investigations that provoked changes such as new laws related to day care and the protection of environmentally-sensitive lands. You can reach Heather at heather@knoxmercury.com

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