By Anne K. Walters, DPA,
Washington : Barack Obama’s plan to jump-start the US economy probably doesn’t involve T-shirts. But T-shirts and other wares emblazoned with the incoming president’s face are in hot demand and might just provide a needed retail boost in the nation’s capital.
Street vendors who typically hawk wares with images of landmarks and the words Washington DC have expanded to include items such as baseball caps proclaiming “Obama is my homeboy”.
Some merchants, such as Frank Batteli who set up a table just steps from the White House, were selling only Obama wares, which he had ordered through a wholesaler. “Obama’s what’s happening,” he said of his single-minded focus.
Among his T-shirts for sale were those that played off popular culture and political references, such as one where Obama appeared posed as in the poster for the 1999 movie “The Matrix” over the words “That One”, a reference both to the film and a moment in a debate between Obama and Republican John McCain, who repeatedly referred to his opponent by those words.
Other items focussed on the historical nature of the nation’s first black president. A magnet with photos of civil rights pioneers of the 1950s and 60s read: “Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children can fly.”
The inauguration will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue into Washington. Tax revenues typically rise 15-20 percent in January of inauguration years, and this year’s event is predicted to be far larger than most, said Bill Hanbury, president and chief executive of Destination DC, the city’s visitors bureau.
The inauguration comes in the midst of a recession that saw retail sales nationwide fall 9.8 percent in December from the previous year despite the holiday shopping season.
But though every souvenir shop in the city has gotten in on the action, the Obama team has opened one official store front for souvenirs where all proceeds go to the inauguration committee that pays for the festivities. The goods are also available online.
Items for sale range from low cost to the high end, from $2 buttons to $50 silver picture frames engraved with the signatures of Obama and vice president-elect Joe Biden to $150 designer rhinestone T-shirts. Non-designer tees, on the other hand, cost just $20-30 at the official store or $10-15 from street vendors.
The high-end goods were part of a “Runway for Change” collection featuring work by designers such as Diane von Furstenburg, Donna Karan and Zac Posen.
Customers stopped by the store in their lunch hours to buy a few mementos or to stock up for friends. The store was just the first stop for many locals, all of whom said they would attend the swearing-in ceremony, even if they do not have tickets to the area nearest the action.
Among the most popular items were posters, buttons and T-shirts with the iconic pop art red, white and blue image of Obama by artist Shepard Fairey. Lapel pins with the inaugural seal and glassware were also in demand, but everyone seems to walk away with a few of the buttons.
Kevin Fennell, 48, came looking for 500 “I was there” buttons for his employer, Verizon Wireless, which is hosting an inaugural bash for employees and VIPs.
Gina Gibbs, 25, a law student, stopped to get T-shirts for her family members in Texas, “since they can’t be here”.
“It’s amazing. I remember the night he was elected there were people dancing the street under my apartment,” she recalled. “I’ve never felt anything that hopeful.”
In addition to retailers, the hope for some renewed business also has restaurants crafting special inauguration menus and drinks.
At one sushi restaurant, diners can buy an Obama Roll, made of veggies; a Biden Roll, featuring crab, a local delicacy in Washington and his home state of Delaware; and a Lame Duck Roll, in honour of outgoing President George W. Bush.