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Original Mobster 

Andrew Samtoy's simple plan has sparked an international cash-mob sensation

Page 3 of 4

***

One of December's few snowy evenings was the setting for Cash Mob No. 2. Mobsters gathered at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City for pre-mob libations and to await Samtoy's announcement of the mystery merchant who would soon be buried in $20 bills.

A block away on West 25th, Candra Squire watched the clock at Salty Not Sweet, her store packed with local artisans' wares and salty homemade greeting cards, not knowing what to expect.

Samtoy estimates 25 people braved the elements, but Squire insists it was 40. "It was packed," she says. And in an hour and a half, she made enough to pay the month's rent.

On a quiet afternoon in mid-February, Squire is perched on a stool behind the cash register at her store, recounting how her mob came to pass. And then a text comes in. It's Andrew.

"He's having a photo shoot at the store Saturday — some business magazine," she says, as if it's an ordinary appointment she will need to keep. It doesn't surprise her.

She met Samtoy two years ago, and since then he has found the time to manage her husband Billy's stand-up comedy career, which will take him to Pennsylvania and Minnesota and around Ohio in the coming month. Samtoy does it for free.

"Andrew is so young, but has done so much," she says. And with a slight chuckle she adds this: "You know, he was over at our house for Thanksgiving, and out of the blue he announced that he joined a cult once. Some religious cult when he was in Wales."

It was but another detour on his long road to Cleveland.

"You've grown up in San Diego, with perfect weather, went to school in L.A., and lived in Spain. Really, Andrew? Cleveland? Really?" Lauren Way tells him.

"I've been there many times, but I've never seen the Cleveland of which he speaks. But he loves Cleveland."

Indeed he does.

"There's so much to do in this city," Samtoy explains at the wine bar.

Because he was the son of a prominent San Diego pediatrician, everybody seemed to know him. In college he was student-body president ("Then everybody really knew me"). Then came working on a gubernatorial campaign in Oregon.

"Then I decided, after all the things I had done, I wanted to be a literature professor. I thought it would be helpful to learn another language first, so I moved to Barcelona. And if I was going to make it, I wanted to do it on my own merits. And the only way I could do that was to get away."

At some point later, he found himself alone for three days on a deserted Florida beach — don't ask — when it came to him: "When people want something done, they don't call professors of literature. They call attorneys."

So, back in Spain, Samtoy drew a thousand-mile circle around San Diego and applied only to law schools outside that radius. He was accepted at Case. He arrived in 2005 and never looked back. "When people ask me if I'm going home for Christmas, I say I'm going to San Diego for Christmas. Cleveland's my home."

On that note, he pulls out a small black moleskin pocket calendar and opens it to the day's page — its place held by an attached ribbon — like a hymnal. It would have been very expensive, but Samtoy gets last year's outdated calendars for a steal on eBay and dates the pages himself. He displays the very long list of everything he has to do that day, recorded in the most minuscule scrawl imaginable, along with the occasional passing thought he couldn't trust to memory.

"I have seven minutes before I'm meeting a friend's stepdaughter to help her with career advice. When should we do this again?"

***

With the Salty Not Sweet Cash Mob behind him and his core organizers across the country pretty much running on their own steam, Samtoy increasingly hears of Cash Mobs he has nothing to do with.

And they are rising up everywhere. From Louisiana and Alabama to Washington, D.C., and out to Arizona and Nevada. "It's shocking," he says.

Samtoy is also thrilled with local efforts he's watched from the sidelines. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce held a Cash Mob at Wexler's Tavern last month. They told people where it was in advance. Medina sponsored a "shop local" day and called it a Cash Mob.

"My rules are just suggestions," he says. "People need to do what fits for them."

Chagrin Falls did really well. James Black, a resident with no association to Samtoy, e-mailed friends to spend $20 at the circa-1857 Chagrin Hardware Store. Two hundred shoppers filtered through in one day, and the Associated Press spread the story nationally.

More by Maude L. Campbell

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