- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003


It didn’t take long for some savvy folks to dream up ways of merchandising the blackout of 2003.

A quick surf through the Web uncovers just about any type of memorabilia, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to baby bibs and thong underwear, and even advice on how to handle the next big outage.

“We had a laptop and we started working on it straightaway,” said Jonathan Cornish, 25, of Toronto, who sells T-shirts emblazoned with the phrases “New York, the lightweight city” and “Did Buffalo pay their bills?” on the site blackedout2003.com.

Blackout merchandise started popping up on the Internet within hours of the outage, offering everything from mugs with a list of all the affected cities to tote bags with a tasteful black-and-white design — “Blackout 2003” with Thursday’s date.

Several Internet sellers are using Cafepress.com, a San Francisco area Internet company that sets up online stores and prints the merchandise for sellers. More than a dozen stores are selling blackout memorabilia on the site.

“On our service, everything seems to pop up as soon as it happened,” said Maheesh Jain, spokesman for Cafepress.com. “In some ways, [it] tends to mirror what people are thinking and what’s going on.”

Cathy Johnson, 40, borrowed a phrase from television broadcasters for her merchandise, which includes T-shirts, beer steins and thongs.

“They just kept talking about ‘black Thursday’ and I thought, ‘Hey!’” said Miss Johnson, who runs a photography business in Newport News, Va. “We actually put it up shortly after the lights went out.”

The catchphrase on Miss Johnson’s merchandise is “Black Thursday 2003,” and includes the Canadian and American flags. She said she didn’t know exactly how much had sold since the storefront went up about two hours after the outage.

Mr. Cornish said Monday that in the past 36 hours, 500 T-shirts had been sold and blackedout2003.com had had about 4,000 hits. The free-lance graphic designer who went without electricity for more than 24 hours sells 18 kinds of T-shirts.

At the Woodward Dream Cruise, a classic-car celebration in suburban Detroit, T-shirts for sale Saturday commemorated the blackout. The T-shirts read: “The Great Blackout of 2003. No power, no problem. Woodward unplugged. Cruise on!”

Sellers also capitalized on the surge in interest in emergency preparedness, offering a $39.95 flashlight that operates without batteries, hawked with the line “A blackout is no problem now!”

After power returned to Michigan customers, Steven E. Harris, of Warren, Mich., spent 16 hours Saturday writing an e-book on the blackout. “Surviving the Blackout of 2003” sells for $9.95 on his Web site, Knowledgepublications.com.

“On Saturday, when things were coming back, all my friends and myself, we knew we dodged a bullet,” said Mr. Harris, who is a member of the local civilian emergency response team. “We were looking at each other, [saying] ‘This is kindergarten, people … why don’t you try doing this for a week?’”

Mr. Harris’ book, which he plans eventually to make available at no charge, warns people that the situation could have been much worse and offers advice on preparing for and handling blackouts.

The advice ranges from the types of clothing to have in an emergency to how to use the bathroom without water.



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