WASHINGTON — “Stimulate the economy! Buy these recession-free T-shirts!” cried one vendor on the National Mall.
“The big carmakers got a bailout, and so will you! Only $5 each!” shouted another.
On the weekend before the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, people the nation over are flocking to the capital. And, hoping to capitalize on this influx and its Obama-based enthusiasm, street vendors are selling Obama memorabilia — “Obamabilia.” Along with the T-shirts and pins depicting the president-elect’s smiling face emblazoned on them, vendors sold Obama chocolate bars, life-sized cardboard cutouts and miniature Obama busts.
Michael Thompson, a Massachusetts native who was selling Obama merchandise before the inaugural concert, said he comes to Washington, D.C., every four years to witness and profit from the inauguration.
“It’s like this every year,” he said. “We always sell inauguration souvenirs. But I think you’ll get much more business with it being Obama.”
The sheer number of vendors over the weekend was overwhelming. Because the area surrounding the National Mall — where inauguration activities are held — was blocked off to all but foot traffic, entrepreneurs from all across the nation came to cater to the estimated 3 million inauguration attendees. Constitution Avenue, which runs the length of the National Mall, was completely covered with a variety of vendors from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Charles Flickinger, a sculptor from Virginia who was selling miniature busts of Obama, said that it was certainly a boon to business that Obama will be entering the White House.
“This is the first time in a decade that I didn’t come here with a protest sign,” he said. “I would have never thought to honor Bush with my art.”
Spectators and attendees of inauguration events thought similarly. Two dozen attendees interviewed said that they had never dreamed of coming to D.C. for an inauguration (much less spend money on merchandise) for the previous presidents.
“I had a chance to come here [to D.C.] four years ago,” said one woman from Chicago. “But I wouldn’t have come in a thousand years. But now, I’m so excited.”
Not everyone selling was as affected by the context. Some were just there to make money. One vendor was selling McCain-Palin shirts, “Ten for $3!” Another, who refused to give his name, told the News that he neither knew any of Obama’s political positions nor cared, before refusing to answer further questions and beckoning other potential costumers.
Just as Obamabilia has sold continuously throughout the 2008 election cycle, these types of merchandise are expected to continue until well beyond the end of the inauguration festivities. Indeed, national chain stores are beginning to catch on — Urban Outfitters now prominently displays and sells an entire line of Obama-themed items, providing a thin silver lining in the gloom of the economic recession.
Colin Ross contributed reporting from Washington.