- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

Business was so bad for vendors yesterday that some wished they had stayed home.

Because of the presidential inauguration’s heightened security, the sellers of food and presidential paraphernalia were shunted aside, far from the parade route. They saw little traffic and, more important, few spenders.

“It’s not worth it so far,” said Mokhtar Sherif, who was selling snacks, pretzels, hot dogs and hot chocolate on 13th Street near F Street NW.

His business had brought in just $50 by 12:30 p.m. yesterday.

“It is so very slow,” he said. “I’m ready for 10,000 people.”

Mr. Sherif’s vending cart is usually at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, where he earns between $700 and $900 in sales daily.

The inauguration usually is a cash cow for vendors, who rake in thousands of dollars more than they would during a typical January day. During past inaugurations, vendors have been situated on prime real estate along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route.

Mr. Sherif said he made $13,000 during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration.

Vendors had to get special licenses to sell on the street yesterday. They were assigned to a few blocks between F and G streets near Metro Center and on several blocks along Independence Avenue.

The vendors knew just a few hours into the day that their displaced locations were going to hurt sales.

“Business will be so-so,” said John Long, who was selling sweatshirts, T-shirts, flags and buttons near 12th and G streets.

By noon Mr. Long had $100 to $200 in sales. Four years ago, sales reached $2,000 during the first four hours he was open.

Although Mr. Long’s booth was near one of the Metro Center exits, the escalator leading to G Street was broken.

“That’s a problem,” he said.

Some vendors said customers weren’t willing to spend.

“People are being cheap,” said Kevin White, who was hawking inaugural pins and buttons outside Barnes & Noble on 12th Street.

One potential customer walking to a security checkpoint asked Mr. White the price of the buttons displayed on a piece of cardboard. The $3 price tag was too much and she kept walking.

“It’s a little rough today,” added Antonio Rich, who was selling the same merchandise.

Mr. Rich had been stationed outside the bookstore for two hours and had made $40. He was hoping to reach $250 in sales yesterday. By comparison, Mr. Rich made $1,700 selling merchandise during President Bush’s previous inauguration.

Jennie MacBride was haggling with one vendor, at 13th and G streets, to get the price on two ski hats reduced. She succeeded in buying two hats for $13 — saving a few dollars.

“I’m looking for the perfect price,” Ms. MacBride said.

She had spent about $50 on souvenirs, which included an inaugural keepsake from the U.S. Postal Service featuring photos of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, T-shirts and much-needed gloves.

Ms. MacBride, a Republican from Cat Spring, Texas, visited Washington during Mr. Bush’s first inauguration, too.

“We didn’t come down to this part [of the city] before,” she said.

Ms. MacBride was searching for a shorter security checkpoint line and stumbled upon the vendors.

On the other side of the Mall on Independence Avenue, William Bogart of Kunkletown, Pa., was stocking up on inaugural T-shirts and mugs. He spent about $60 — the amount the Washington DC Convention & Tourism Corp. estimates day visitors spend while in Washington.

“I wanted some souvenirs to take home,” said Mr. Bogart, who took the Metro into the city to watch the inauguration.

“This is a historical event and I wanted to witness it,” he said.

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