“I don’t really know what to expect,” says Michael Mednick, owner of Anthony’s Homemade Italian Ice, 3442 N. Southport Ave. Warned of an impending Carrotmob this Saturday, June 16, he’s called in extra staff to help defend against the projected throng of what: A para-military group of vegans? Gardening mafia? Marauding band of redheads? Thank god for that NATO training.
Actually, Mednick has nothing to fear. Carrotmobs come in peace…and to spend money.
The idea, initially conceived by founder Brent Schulkin in 2003 and first put into practice in 2008, is beyond simple: It’s a “buy”-cott instead of a boycott, a carrot instead of a stick.
“You bring your money and effect change by supporting the business,” explains Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. “You use your spending power to influence behavior.”
In the case of Anthony’s, if Carrotmob-sters collectively shell out $860 between the hours of noon and 6 p.m., Mednick will use the proceeds to swap out one of his electricity-guzzling freezers for an Energy Star-rated model. If he rakes in more than $860, he’ll replace two.
“Some of my freezers are 10 years old or more,” Mednick says. “They aren’t efficient…. My electric bill is huge.”
Though not a first for Chicago–Fox & Obel was mobbed back in 2009–Anthony’s Carrotmob is the first for the Lakeview Chamber (by Carrotmob law, events must be organized by a nonprofit). “It was a line item on the LAMP bucket list,” says Way, referring to the Lakeview Area Master Plan. “If you dig down through the document, it’s there.”
The mob fulfills one of the Chamber’s LAMP goals: creating a sense of community among Lakeviewians, who often feel disconnected from their neighbors. “It brings people together, and maybe they find a new favorite spot,” she says.
Looking for an easy win in their inaugural mob effort, the Chamber considered which business might have a project simple enough to all but guarantee success. “We weren’t going to do the Music Box HVAC system,” says Way.
After reviewing previous mobs on the Carrotmob site (more than 200 campaigns have taken place in 20 countries), the Chamber approached Mednick, who proved a willing guinea pig. “I don’t turn anything down,” he says. “I never say no.”
Small businesses in general have been hurting during the recession, and a seasonal shop like Anthony’s is an even iffier proposition. What do December, January and February look like in the Italian ice trade? “It’s nerve wracking,” says Mednick. “My sales are nothing compared to summer.”
With no budget for advertising, Anthony’s relies on word of mouth to attract new customers. Mednick hopes the mob’s “green” angle, along with Anthony’s emphasis on all-natural, local products, will lure an environmentally-conscious clientele. Once he gets them in the door, Mednick is convinced his chocolate ice-peanut butter frozen yogurt mash-up will convert first-timers into regulars.
At just a couple of bucks per serving, Italian ice offers a pretty cheap way to change the world, one energy-efficient appliance at a time, according to Way. “A small amount is part of a bigger contribution.”