Original Mobster 

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

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Meanwhile, Samtoy's Big Fun Cash Mob is proving to be more daunting to organize. Unlike the others, which unfolded in virtual secrecy, he has decided to contact the city first. "The other communities didn't need to know about it," he says. But given Cleveland Heights' recent history with flash mobs, he figures they do.

"My first thought was mob. Cash, flash — whatever," says City Manager Robert Downey, his thoughts retreating to nightmares of last June.

Negotiations were strained at first. Downey asked Samtoy how he controls the people. "I said, 'We don't.' Then there was silence.

"About 20 minutes into the 30-minute call, I told him that the people who show up to these things aren't the people who throw bricks. But I never told him CNN was coming."

Eventually convinced, Downey put four additional patrolmen on duty for the night of February 9, worked out the appropriate gathering place — the corner of Coventry and Euclid Heights Boulevard — and with that, the Coventry Cash Mob would be a go.

When the evening comes, Samtoy appears, this time in a hat made up of a fluffy white creature wearing a red Fez. He tells the assembled crowd they're headed to Big Fun.

With cameras rolling, the mob shambles down the same sidewalk that troublesome teens had traversed last summer. Passersby ask what it's all about, and some of them join in.

"This is a party I didn't have to throw," Presser says of the dozens who've jammed his store. "There are people here from all walks of life — this is community."

Afterward, the party continues at La Cave Du Vin, the wine bar down the street where more than half the Cash Mobsters gather afterward. "This is networking: doing something fun with friends," Samtoy says. "Put-on events where all you do is exchange cards and talk about what you do doesn't work."

About half the post-mob crowd don't already know Samtoy. "What he's doing makes so much sense. The big-box stores have taken things away from the cities. It's got to come back at some point," says David Meyers, a Detroit native fresh out of the Cleveland Institute of Art who now designs furniture for Reclaimed Cleveland.

"I would have never come to Big Fun or this bar if it weren't for the Cash Mob," says Jim Lincoln, owner of Reclaimed. And he plans to come back.

Amid a group of young women playing with their Silly Putty and cellophane mood fish, there is Samtoy's friend, Knut Strom-Jensen.

If Samtoy didn't like being known by everyone out west, he has fared no better here. Strom-Jensen has done the research.

"I was fooling around on Facebook, trying to find anyone in Cleveland who didn't know Andrew within two degrees," he says.

He couldn't find anyone.

"Andrew is Two Degrees of Cleveland."


Samtoy is pondering his future with Cash Mobs, this time over his favorite Cleveland dish — shrimp saganaki at Mia Bella in Little Italy. He reaches over the bar and produces a leather and stainless-steel flask, a circa-1977 Dunhill he bought on eBay, and he pours a round of Laphroaig scotch. The expensive stuff. Ten-year cask strength, neat. He brought it for Mia Bella's staff to try.

A moment later, Samtoy notices a Freemason's ring he's wearing as if he's surprised to find it on his own finger. He says he dabbled with the fabled fraternity for two years, before differences over what he calls racist policies drove him away. Conversation then meanders to the time he filled in as a model for a Diesel ad, on that day he just happened to be hanging out at the Southern California home of renowned designer Dana Hollister.

Eventually he wheels back around to talk of Cash Mobs. He mentions that he has declared March 24 National Cash Mob Day, and his organizers are all onboard.

The national attention is great, he says — though Canada has been a disappointment. Mobs have hit Calgary, Winnipeg, and Victoria. "I don't know these people. None of my Canadian friends are doing these, and I think they should. I have a cousin and aunt in Toronto! I seriously don't get why we don't have Toronto."

But London will be onboard soon — a friend of a friend.

Samtoy has heard that the Occupy movement has adopted Cash Mobs in some cities, and he greets the news coldly. His own rules, after all, specify that there is to be no political or religious agenda. His personal view of Occupy doesn't matter, he says; he doesn't like them claiming Cash Mobs for their own.

Then again, he knows his rules are just suggestions. He's said as much himself.

"People need to do what fits for them," he has said. Andrew Samtoy, of all people, should know.

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