After presidential elections every four or eight years, Washington’s gift shops and souvenir stands undergo an overnight transformation. Barack Obama action figures made way for “Make America Great Again” gear in 2016, and now Biden-Harris face masks and T-shirts are pushing MAGA hats to the clearance racks.
“Whenever you have a change in administration, no matter who it is, there are new customers and all new energy,” said Alesia Jones, vice president of the longtime Washington store. “It’s like you flip a switch and have a completely new store.”
Sales are typically steady regardless of who’s in the White House, thanks to a dependable stream of political supporters and tourists who want keepsakes from the nation’s capital. But this year is different.
At White House Gifts, revenue has fallen 80 percent since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, and tourism — especially lucrative international travel — ground to a halt. Most of the people who wander in are regional, traveling from Maryland or Virginia. The store, which once had 32 workers, now employs seven.
Still, souvenir sellers across the city say they are hopeful that the Biden-Harris win will create enthusiasm for their products. Harris — the country’s first elected female, Black and Asian vice president — holds a special appeal to girls and women that they’re hoping to capitalize on. White House Gifts is already selling girls’ T-shirts that say “Kamala is my VP” and “That little girl was me,” a reference to Harris’s viral exchange with Biden during a Democratic presidential debate last year. Other shop owners say they’re hoping to replicate the kind of success they’ve had with products commemorating former first lady Michelle Obama and late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
After a costly mistake in 2016 — in which owner Jim Warlick bought $100,000 worth of Hillary Clinton T-shirts, mugs and wine glasses before the election — executives this time waited until Sunday, one day after Biden was named the winner of the presidential race, to place their orders. Jones says she’s still parsing speeches and appearances by Biden and Harris to pick up on quotes and ideas for new merchandise.
“Each president has their own theme,” said Jones, who said designers typically start creating products six months before an election. “For Trump, it was ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Keep America Great’ that kind of took over. This time around, we’re picking up on cues such as Joe Biden’s aviator glasses and, of course, the fact that Kamala Harris is breaking a huge glass ceiling for women.”
The official White House Gift Shop is offering preorders on an official Biden-Harris inauguration coin for $100. Elsewhere on the Internet, businesses are selling Biden-scented candles (“a captivating blend of musk and honey”) for $25, Harris-theme coloring books ($17) and life-size cardboard cutouts of both ($40). For those on the other side of the political spectrum, there are “Impeach Biden” bumper stickers ($5) and bath mats ($20).
The change in administration, shop owners say, often