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Americans lining up to get a piece of Obama

By Brett zongker  /  AP , WASHINGTON

A jack-in-the-box with the likeness of president-elect Barack Obama is displayed at a gift shop in Union Station in Washington on Dec. 9.

PHOTO: AP

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 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 bobble-head doll. One T-shirt features a US map stamped with the words, “Under New Management.”

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

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

Well, almost everything.

Obama is clearly a big sales opportunity for the multitude of vendors and gift-shop retailers in the nation’s capital and elsewhere.

The fact that Obama will be the country’s first black president is driving sales to “a whole different tier than [former US president Bill] Clinton or [President George W.] 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,” he said. “Opening day here is called Inauguration Day.”

Some Obama products can be personalized with your own name. Web site DemocraticStuff.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-carat-gold-trimmed Obama “Victory Plate” — a “priceless work of art” that sells for US$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, New Jersey-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.

Newspapers also smelled an opportunity because so many papers sold out after the election, said Cathy Trost, the exhibits chief at the Newseum.

The Washington Post is offering tote bags, clothing and a coffee mug with images of its day-after-election front page; prices range from US$10 to US$43.

On Inauguration Day, the paper will print a special advertising section, “Welcome to the White House,” that lets people submit personal messages to the new president for US$10.

The New York Times has even more items for sale — and at New York prices. Photographs of Obama go for US$200 (just the basic) to as much as US$1,129 for a framed print signed by the photographer.

The Newseum also is selling Obama merchandise, including a poster with 25 newspaper front pages about Obama’s election.

“It reminded people of how important newspapers really are,” Trost said.

Capitalizing on the new president’s image is nothing new.

“Historically, Americans have been making and selling commemorative inauguration material, souvenirs, since George Washington’s time,” said Larry Bird, a curator at the National Museum of American History.

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