Monday, January 19, 2009

D.C.’s street vendors are counting on a record-breaking number of customers for Tuesday’s presidential inauguration, but some remain anxious about the long hours and strict regulations they will face.

“I may have to sleep in the street Monday night,” said Brahim Idsissi, who runs a souvenir stand at the intersection of 12th and G streets Northwest.

“It will be cold, but I won’t have time to go home,” he said. “I have no choice.”

Mr. Idsissi won’t be allowed to occupy his usual corner on Inauguration Day, but won a spot in the G Street Inaugural Vending Zone in a lottery held earlier this month by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Vendors for the zone will gather at a staging area along Seventh Street Northwest until they are allowed to enter, according to the agency.

Load-in will begin at 2 a.m. Tuesday under the supervision of police and the agency. And vendors will have little, if any, choice in where they can set up.

There are more than 200 vending sites in the G Street zone, but Mr. Idsissi is concerned about getting a choice spot for his stand.

“If everybody had their own [designated] spot, it would be better,” he said.

Agency spokesman Michael Rupert is confident that the set-up process will be orderly.

“It won’t be a free-for-all,” he said. “Police in the area will escort them in.”

Vendors will be moved into the next available site, one after another, along the street until each block is full, Mr. Rupert said.

Of the 710 vendors allowed into the various areas in the city’s Inaugural Vending Zone, about 40 percent will be food vendors, and the rest will sell merchandise, Mr. Rupert said.

The agency hopes this will ease the pressure on local restaurants as visitors seek hot food, he said.

Barack Obama‘scampaign and election touched off a marketing blitz unparalleled by any recent presidents, even bringing Corporate America in on the act.

Companies ranging from global giants such as PepsiCo to a local grocery chain offering cakes with Mr. Obama’s face in icing are jumping on the commercial wave, the Associated Press reported.

Others, such as the Swedish home store Ikea, are hoping consumers take Mr. Obama’s mantra of “change” to heart so much that they go out and buy furniture to mark the change in the White House.

Obama merchandise has become a windfall for vendors because many customers buy for their friends and family.

“People will buy six to 10 Obama hats at one time, instead of one,” said Lawrence Fells, who sells hats and shirts at 18th and K streets Northwest. “The same goes for the T-shirts.”

Mr. Fells did not participate in the lottery because of the fees, which reached as high as $840 for unlicensed vendors.

Mr. Idsissi said his biggest sellers are the Obama T-shirts and knit hats, but worried that a lack of variety might hurt sales Tuesday.

“When you have 200 vendors on one street, everybody’s going to have the same stuff,” he said.

Much of that merchandise, including Obama watches, buttons, bobble-head dolls and stuffed bears comes from businesses such as N&T Wholesale Inc. on Monroe Street Northeast, which supplies souvenirs to many street vendors and local stores.

Much of their stock comes from distributors in New York City, as well as from China, said Quang Ngo of N&T, but they print many of their own T-shirts.

The nearby Pan Trading Co., on Fifth Street Northeast, also prints much of its own clothing.

“Most of this kind of merchandise is from Asia, but we try to not to import,” said manager Jae Chong, as a row of automated machines behind him sewed presidential seals on sweatshirts.

Mr. Chong, who will be selling Tuesday on G Street Northwest, tries to buy only from American manufacturers and suppliers. “We go for ‘Made in the USA,’” he said.

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