With so many new restaurants and retailers opening in downtown Detroit to much fanfare in the local press, the mom-and-pop businesses that have always served as the city’s backbone can feel excluded from the revitalization narrative.
Often, the shoestring budgets of these small businesses don’t include resources for a digital marketing team, or they may be working too hard running their enterprises to worry about posting perfectly lit shots on Instagram.
That’s why Mainstreet Mob is on a mission to shine a spotlight on the city’s underappreciated, or even largely unknown, small businesses. Founder Margarita Barry, who earlier in the decade had a popular blog featuring young entrepreneurs called I Am Young Detroit, is the force behind Mainstreet Mob.
“It’s kind of a re-envisioning of I Am Young Detroit,” Barry explains. “Whose story can we tell next? We’re still shining a light on Detroit neighborhoods and businesses if they’re in an underdeveloped area.”
Mainstream Mob has two components: one for businesses, and another for the shoppers who want to support the businesses highlighted on the website. Businesses hire Barry and her team of 10 to create a custom branding and marketing plan. Then the team takes over the business’ social media profiles and digital marketing for at least 90 days so shop owners can focus on running day-to-day operations. Shoppers, who can join the community free of charge, upload their receipts to earn points and perks for supporting businesses listed on the platform.
Barry says she also wants to bring members of her online community offline to participate in cash mobs—which are like flash mobs, except that instead of everyone showing up to the same place at the same time to do a group dance routine or other performative gesture, people converge on a selected store and shop en masse, providing a boost to the business. Mainstreet Mob’s first cash mob event will be held on March 10 at The Commons, a café and laundromat on Detroit’s east side.
Mainstreet Mob, founded this year, is part of Barry’s larger effort, an umbrella digital media company and website called I Am Mainstreet America. The site features content such as photos, videos, and postings that tell the stories of Mainstreet Mob’s small businesses.
“It’s important for businesses to continually engage with customers,” Barry says. “Customers want to feel connected. Even starting small by posting a menu online—if businesses think they can’t afford it or don’t have time, what’s why we’re here.” For now, the businesses being showcased are in Detroit, but Barry would like to expand to other cities in the future if all goes well.
Barry, a web developer by trade, paid for the startup costs for the for-profit venture herself, and she has continued to boot strap as it grows.
“Mainstreet Mob is another way to help support small businesses and the neighborhoods while promoting a thriving economy,” Barry adds.