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Vendors cash in with DNC items

Customers snap up buttons, shirts, mugs, candy, cupcakes and more – all geared to the convention

By Brittany Penland and Alex Barinka
bpenland@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. A sign outside of Amelie’s Petite, a French bakery in uptown Charlotte, says they have the official drink of the DNC.

And they’re not the only business cashing in on convention-goers. Businesses around Charlotte are catering to the Democratic National Convention audience by selling DNC merchandise and enticing passersby with colorful President Barack Obama gear.

The Charlotte Visitor Information Center and uptown hotels such as the Westin and Hilton are selling “Obama Y’all” buttons.

“It was a natural fit for the Visitor Info Center to sell this merchandise because it’s such a huge win for our city to host an event that makes history,” said Linda Durkin, manager of the information center.

She said the center began selling DNC merchandise a few months after Charlotte was selected as the host city. Durkin expects to serve hundreds of DNC guests as they visit the area.

“If we can enhance their stay with a restaurant suggestion or a takeaway that helps them remember their time in Charlotte, we’re happy to do so.”

However, Laura Hill, spokeswoman for the information center, said selling Obama merchandise does not mean the organization supports the Democratic Party.

Merchandise vendors were in full swing at CarolinaFest, the free Labor Day event that kicked off the convention Monday. The president’s face graced T-shirts, mugs, purses and air fresheners, among other items.

Jewell Treats, a confection company usually located at a kiosk in SouthPark mall, set up a tent at the festival to sell DNC-inspired sweets – Obama marshmallows, 5-pound red-and-blue gummy bears, DNC lollipops and candy boxes.

Nila Nicholas, a candy stylist for the company, said business at CarolinaFest was steady. The confection company usually sells about 100 cupcakes per day, but she expects that number to increase because of its temporary location on Tryon Street. Its tent will be in various uptown locations throughout the week.

“Business is good so far,” Nicholas said. “We are really excited to be here.”

Nicholas also said selling DNC-inspired treats does not mean the company endorses the Democratic Party. She said if the Republican National Convention were in Charlotte, she would sell Republican candies.

“We would have done this either way,” she said.

That notion doesn’t ring true for T-shirt vendor Adrian Stowe, who works for Route 74 Promotions. Stowe, who sold T-shirts at CarolinaFest, said he travels the country promoting events with his merchandise, but he would not sell Republican-inspired gear.

“We are 100 percent Obama fans and we have invested interest in this,” Stowe said.

He traveled to the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, where he said he sold between 6,000 and 10,000 shirts to convention-goers.

“It was electric,” Stowe said of the 2008 convention. “And that same buzz is here in Charlotte today.”

The Charlotte native said he plans to sell between 3,000 and 5,000 Obama T-shirts during the 2012 convention. His biggest mission? He wants people to know “Charlotte is a great place to live and that it’s a big city with Southern values.”

Vendor Mark Evans hopes his “Hot For Buttons!” booth at the festival will inspire a zeal for politics like his own, which started in 1960 as a third-grader campaigning for John F. Kennedy in Buffalo, N.Y.

Evans’ political buttons range from the Batman-inspired “Dark Knight” (it depicts the president’s face on a bat’s body) to one reading “ROMNEY HOOD Taking from the POOR to give to the RICH.”

While the booth also sells pro-Mitt Romney buttons, most people are buying the Obama paraphernalia, he said. His favorite button of the day is a piece that reads, “Obama killed Osama” on a square American flag background.

Business also picked up on Monday for vendor Ken Toltz, who operates the Obama-Bling.com booth.

This is Obama-Bling.com’s second time selling its rhinestone-laden pins at a convention, the first time being at the 2008 convention in Denver.

Toltz said he thinks he will make money this week, although the crowded setup at CarolinaFest may not be as suited for business as Denver’s expansive pedestrian walkway where vendors sold items.

Toltz said he is also concerned security may deter some customers. “I am concerned that security is oppressive in terms of trying to do business,” he said.

Many of the vendors from CarolinaFest will be selling merchandise for the duration of the convention.

Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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