Obama-rama: Hordes of vendors bank on souvenir sales

Some of Denver’s 50,000 DNC guests may realize they’ve been remiss about owning a flag pin, or that their bathroom has always been missing that John McCain toilet paper, or that the perfect birthday present for Grandma is an “Obama Mama” T-shirt when they arrive for the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Hundreds of vendors of convention-related wares hope so, anyway.

Mobile mini-kitchens, peddlers on the go, and souvenir booths will dot downtown Denver’s streets from the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field to the 16th Street Mall and Civic Center Park, offering convention-goers and Denverites a chance to buy memorabilia of the historic event.

Need a red, white and blue bottle of oxygen to adjust to the altitude? These vendors have you covered, for a price, of course.

The number of open-air entrepreneurs on the 16th Street Mall will almost double during the DNC to about 70 vendors, said Sarah Newmann, spokeswoman for the Downtown Denver Partnership, which manages the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, which is in charge of the mall.

But the four-day sellers haven’t replaced the city’s regular vendors, according to the Downtown Denver Partnership, which offered special event permits to the area’s familiar faces.

“They have many people who are used to finding them down there, and we had to respect that,” Newmann said.

The regular fortunetellers and purse salesmen could mix well with the more convention-themed fare.

“It’s just a diverse spectrum of paraphernalia,” said Newmann, comparing the vendor influx to what visitors would see on St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve.

Of course the items for sale will be more patriotic, and sometimes more partisan, than other events.

Julie Rubsam plans to set up a booth on the mall selling DenverCrat [www.Denvercrat.us] bumper stickers, T-shirts and magnets, among other gear, with many of them featuring images of Barack Obama.

Rubsam and her business partner, Tina Eyre, are paying $325 a day for their space on the mall near Court Street and an additional $210 for a liability insurance policy. They’d like to sell everything they bring to the convention and re-order merchandise to sell through their Web site before this fall’s election.

“You have to sell a lot at those rates, and there’s going to be a lot of competition in town,” said Rubsam, a longtime Democrat and Obama supporter.

Denvercrat, which has sold about 2,500 items this year, has been the subject of local and national media stories, potentially giving their sales aboost.

Kevin Scott, Denver’s permit liaison, said requests for vendor and peddler permits have come in from all over the country.

“I think there’s going to be considerably more [vendors than normal.] With peddlers, I think it’s going to be a lot like the World Series,” said Scott, estimating the city could host up to 200 peddlers in downtown areas beyond the 16th Street Mall, including the parking lots that surround Invesco Field, where Obama will accept the Democratic presidential nomination.

Scott said he doesn’t know the total number of permits granted for the Aug. 25-28 convention, but he echoed some of the vendors’ primary concern:

“I hope there’s enough buyers to buy all the T-shirts.”

The photo slideshow was produced by Jason Kosena.

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