Vendors Out In Full Force With Obama Souvenirs

Visitors to Washington can find just about anything they need with Barack Obama's picture on it. Hoodies, key chains, and buttons — just to name of few of the souvenir items. Street hawkers are everywhere and there are millions of people converging on the nation's capital.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And on the streets of Washington today, at least for today, the local economy looks good.

Unidentified Street Vendor: We got what you like, Obama goodies, hoodies. Keychains. We got his picture on a United States flag. Souvenir pictures, take them back with you.

MONTAGNE: Street hawkers are everywhere, and they have hundreds of thousands of customers.

Unidentified Woman: I'm excited about getting my Obama gear.

Unidentified Street Vendor: Obama gear, folks. That's right.

MONTAGNE: This is what you call the front end of the business, the selling end. We wanted to get an idea of what happens at the back end of souvenir selling. Here's NPR's Neva Grant.

NEVA GRANT: Maybe it's a little crass to call it the back end. This warehouse in Kensington, Maryland, actually has a sweeter name, the Fulfillment Center. It's where they fulfill orders for inaugural clothing...

Ms. STEPHANIE WARLICK(ph) (Employee, Fulfillment Center, Kensington, Maryland): It's the comfy blue sweatshirt.

GRANT: Inaugural buttons...

(Soundbite of buttons clinking)

GRANT: Inaugural basketballs.

(Soundbite of bouncing balls)

GRANT: Some of these items will be trucked to gift shops in Washington hotels, which can be their own little centers of fulfillment on an inaugural weekend. A single gift shop can make tens of thousands of extra dollars these days. And the other souvenirs here, they're being sent out of Washington to Web shoppers who found this stuff online.

Ms. WARLICK: Well, we're making a button package that's going to Andrea(ph) in Pittsburgh. One of our signature Obama basketballs, regulation size, is going to Renee(ph) in Omaha, Nebraska.

GRANT: Stephanie Warlick helps run things here, and she works for Jenny Walter(ph), who describes herself as a serial entrepreneur.

Ms. JENNY WALTER (Proprietor, Fulfillment Center, Kensington, Maryland): Can you hand me that Obama button?

GRANT: Walter owns a handful of hotel gift shops and a new Web site that specializes in inaugural tchotchkes.

Ms. WALTER: I think every supplier, if you talked to them, would tell you there are no limits to what they could sell. No limits.

GRANT: She'll be thrilled if her inaugural Web site makes half a million dollars this month. And because this is such a historic occasion, it might have a longer shelf life.

Ms. WALTER: We actually have orders for things being made right now so that we can get shipments in after the inauguration.

GRANT: And she doesn't think buyers will lose interest.

Ms. WALTER: They don't care if the inauguration's over. They still want a piece of it.

GRANT: If they don't drive her crazy first. Souvenir shoppers, says Jenny Walter, can be demanding.

Ms. WALTER: We had the woman from France who wanted the mugs with Obama in French on the mugs. I said, sure, but the reality is that there wouldn't really be anything done differently, except his name would be his name.

GRANT: Then there was the buyer who said he'd seen an eye-catching tiepin on their Web site, one that showed John McCain and Sarah Palin as the president and vice president.

Ms. WALTER: Yes, he emailed us and said, can I get that?

Ms. WARLICK: His name was Rick(ph). I'm not sure where in the country it was shipped to.

Ms. WALTER: He's from somewhere in Texas, I think...

GRANT: Jenny Walter and Stephanie Warlick say after Rick in Texas made this request, they realized that, yes, by mistake, they had displayed some McCain-Palin inaugural samples on their site.

Ms. WALTER: Stephanie and I were both a little bit shocked. And when we went to do the research, we found this supplier had some product that was in case McCain-Palin won. So I bought it all.

Ms. WARLICK: You've got it still?

Ms. WALTER: Yes.

Ms. WARLICK: Where?

Ms. WALTER: In my house.

GRANT: And as for Rick in Texas, the Fulfillment Center delivered. He got his tiepin honoring the inauguration of President McCain and Vice President Palin. Cost him $14. One day, years from now, it might be worth a lot more. Neva Grant, NPR News.

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