What's the year's biggest cultural event without tacky souvenirs?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 - 07:58 AM

Hours before Barack Obama was to take the oath of office, a CD of his speeches set to techno music blared out of a boom box sitting on a pile of T-shirts. "How much for the Shepard Fairey watch?" said a customer, leaning over the sidewalk table full of Obama merchandise. The greatness and gravity of the presidency, conjured up today under the Capitol dome, will sit starkly against the moat of junk that has never been seen before for a president.

Obama's popularity and personality have inspired designers and hawkers to take his rock star status to new marketing heights. The new president's smiling face sits behind the hands of clocks. A towel features the former senator dunking a basketball in a Superman suit, with the scoreboard reading "1:20:09." Regular campaign buttons that would have satisfied collectors and politicos of past ages are now neon, handmade and outfitted with glowing backlights.

Norris Gibson knew this would be big business eighteen months ago. "Win or lose, he was going to be a legend," he says. On Monday, he was busily manning tables outside Union Station that are extension of his Web site, myobamashop.com ("The New Presidential Obama Hoodies and Long Sleeves are now available!") He's created more than 150 designs with Obama's likeness, and boasts that he was the first to celebrate the young president using rhinestones on clothing. Caps and ski caps with "OBAMA" in white plastic stones are selling for $12; T-shirts at his stand go for $26.99. The devoted throng stood two or three deep, calling out sizes and styles, while a CD switched to a Gospel-backed version of Obama's Grant Park victory speech.

Just outside the Greyhound Bus Terminal, Darin White was pushing sequined T-shirts for $45. "I think there will be enough folk here that there will be nice sales all across the city. It'll be a great Obama Day," he said, further reinforcing his brand.


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