Sunday, December 14, 2008

At the gift shops in Union Station, shelves once stocked with ubiquitous FBI T-shirts and mugs now display all things Barack Obama — apparel, action figures and a jack-in-the-box with the president-elect popping out with a big smile.

Even a cigar shop at the busy train station has gotten into the high-demand business with an Obama stogie.

“Everybody’s just Obama crazy. It’s madness right now,” said Johndell McLean, 30, who works at Life on Capitol Hill, a store now full of Obama products, including hot sauce, mints and an Obama bobblehead doll. One T-shirt features a U.S. map stamped with the words, “Under New Management.”

Even more popular is anything with Mr. Obama’s face on it.

“Whatever it is that has Obama on it, they like it,” Mr. McLean said. “Everything is selling.”



Well, almost everything.

A sign on one small shelf at the store reads, “All McCain/Palin T-shirts now $3.75, while they last!” Mugs from the Republican campaign go for less than $2. Nearby, Obama mugs and T-shirts are selling for more than twice those amounts.

Mr. Obama is clearly a big sales opportunity for the multitude of small vendors and gift-shop retailers in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. But it’s almost impossible to calculate the revenue being generated, partly because many trinkets are sold by street vendors in Washington, New York and other places.

The fact that Mr. Obama will be the country’s first black president is driving sales to “a whole different tier than Clinton or Bush or anybody,” said Martin Brochstein, a senior vice president at the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association.

And there is more money to be made in upcoming weeks.

“It’s almost like the opening of a big movie in that everything builds toward that opening day,” Mr. Brochstein said. “Opening day here is called Inauguration Day,” and that is Jan. 20.

Barry Harris, 27, a business school student at Howard University, recently bought nearly $300 worth of Obama merchandise at Union Station for his family in California. He grabbed T-shirts, including one showing Mr. Obama and Martin Luther King with the message “A Dream Come True,” along with an Obama mug and candy bar. The items will be stocking stuffers and Christmas gifts.

“It’s definitely a piece of history — especially in the African-American community,” Mr. Harris said. “It’s definitely just representative of a lot of progress over many years.”

Some Obama products can be personalized with your name. The Web site www.democratic stuff.com, operated by Greenville, Ohio-based Tigereye Design, is selling personalized buttons, banners and rally signs. The Obama campaign is cashing in with sales of commemorative mugs and victory T-shirts; proceeds go to the Democratic National Committee.

Ads for the 22-karat-gold-trimmed Obama “Victory Plate,” a “priceless work of art” that sells for $19.99 plus shipping and handling, have bombarded many cable TV viewers. “His confident smile and kind eyes are an inspiration to us all,” a narrator says on the commercial.

Imprinted with the Election Day electoral vote and the message “Change Has Come,” the plate also comes with a special certificate. The company behind the Obama plate, Fairfield, N.J.-based TeleBrands Corp., is the same group that sells “As Seen on TV” products such as the PedEgg pedicure device and the Stick Up Bulb.

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