- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

NEW YORK — An $1,800 jeweled evening bag, shaped like an elephant. Glowing balls announcing “We have bounce.” T-shirts and “Freedom” ties. Stuffed elephants. Bumper stickers. Rugs. Christmas ornaments.

And, of course, buttons. Lots and lots of buttons.

The Grand Old Marketplace, the official souvenir store of the Republican National Convention, features dozens of vendors who are selling GOP mementos hand over fist, while hawkers of anti-Bush materials this week have seen sales sag — even during Sunday’s massive protest.

But the week’s best sellers are the political buttons.

On Thursday, “they’ll all be gone,” said Mort Berkowitz, president of New York Bold Concepts Unlimited, which has sold political merchandise for more than 20 years.

The wall of his booth was covered with buttons, such as “I’m a red hot Republican,” “Veterans for Bush” and “The Bush family welcomes you to New York” with a portrait of President Bush, first lady Laura, and twin daughters Jenna and Barbara.

To sell well, a button must display “Republican National Convention” and the date, Mr. Berkowitz said. “It’s a collectible.”

His booth was selling pins for $3 each, or five for $10. The most popular were those showing Mr. and Mrs. Bush and the Bush family, he said.

In about six hours, GOPGuys.com had sold about 100 of the 1,000 buttons the firm had brought from Amarillo, Texas. Customers buy “two, four, six at a time,” said co-owner Megan Lewis.

“Bush Country” pins — which are shaped like the United States and have blinking lights — have been especially popular: GOPGuys.com had sold about 500, half of its convention inventory.

“It’s a good show for us,” said co-owner Jim Lewis, who has sold political memorabilia for six years.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis’ 17-year-old daughter, Lindsay, designed the firm’s “Leadership for America” baseball, which sells for $20 and depicts Mr. Bush at various stages in his life, from a boy in a baseball uniform to standing with a New York firefighter after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The baseball has proven to be as popular as the firm’s “We have bounce” balls.

“There are a lot of baseball fans,” Mrs. Lewis said.

For those thinking about Christmas gifts for the GOP faithful, Republican-themed ornaments have been sought-after collectors’ items.

The firm A Presidential Christmas had sold more than 100 ornaments, owner Mary Seeley said.

Its $12 elephants and $20 White House Historical Association ornaments have been the biggest sellers, she said.

Last year, the Tampa, Fla.-based store sold 6,000 historical association ornaments.

Mrs. Seeley also was selling for $10 George W. Bush Presidential Deck playing cards, featuring well-known Republicans such as Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and columnist-author Ann Coulter. The queens depict Mrs. Bush; the kings, Mr. Bush.

“It is a good stocking stuffer,” Mrs. Seeley said.

On the more expensive side, A Presidential Christmas sold two $275 Great Seal of the United States rugs in the first four hours the Grand Old Marketplace was open on Sunday, Mrs. Seeley said. There also was the $850 Italian silver-plated elephant and the $1,800 purse.

Not available at the marketplace but generating a lot of buzz are the “Mr. Flip Flops,” created by CampaignCollectables.com of Franklin, Tenn.

The gray flip-flops, featuring a caricature of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry on them, sell for $9.95. The company has ordered 10,000 pairs, said Marketing Director David Kelly.

About 2,500 pairs were given to Tennessee delegates, and several state delegations have shown interest in buying them, Mr. Kelly said. The Web site has seen “excellent response.”

The few shops selling anti-Bush merchandise near Madison Square Garden reported slow sales.

Souvenir Shop on West 34th Street near Herald Square was selling three anti-Bush T-shirts — with slogans not fit to print in a family newspaper — but they were hidden in a back corner, surrounded by hundreds of New York souvenir shirts.

Business has dropped 60 percent in the past week, said manager Diamond Kandra. “I don’t want business to drop more,” he said. Plus, he doesn’t want to offend delegates who wander into his store.

The shirts weren’t selling at either of the company’s two stores, even during the protests on Sunday, when he hung the shirts outside. And not even when he dropped the price to $6 from $12.99.

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