The street vendor who usually sets up shop at the McPherson Square Metro station is more accustomed to selling Cherry Blossom Festival T-shirts than what he just got in, which he hopes will be just as popular: a T-shirt marking Osama bin Laden’s death.
The $10 shirt features a fake newspaper page with a photo of bin Laden and the blaring headline: “Public Enemy #1 Is Dead.”
Less than 48 hours after Obama announced bin Laden’s killing, the outpouring of U.S. pride and patriotism around the death of the Sept. 11 mastermind has given way to a new — and equally American — impulse: trying to make a quick buck.
CustomInk, a Northern Virginia T-shirt maker, has received more than a thousand inquiries about printing bin Laden T-shirts, company officials said. Zazzle and CafePress, Web sites which let users create and sell custom products online, have been flooded with T-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, trucker hats and key chains celebrating President Obama, the Navy SEALs and the demise of bin Laden.
“It Took Obama To Get Osama,” reads one T-shirt, on sale for $32 on Zazzle. A button for $2.45 blares “Voted Off the Planet” and has a picture of bin Laden with cross hairs superimposed over his head.
Coffee drinkers can sip their morning joe with a “Happy NoSama Day” mug, selling for $15 on CafePress. And for those with a sweet tooth, Furin’s in Georgetown has baked cupcakes with simple messages including “Adios Bin Laden” and “Go SEALs!”
John Schmidt, a senior vice president for CafePress, said his company has sold “a lot” of merchandise around bin Laden’s death but declined to give specific numbers.
Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said that his group is not tracking sales but that the outpouring can be compared with the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Shortly after 9/11, people were thirsty for patriotic displays — that’s why so many flags were sold,” he said. “There’s a similar feeling now. That’s why you see such an appetite for these things.”
At the McPherson Square station, the appetite appeared small. The vendor, who only would identify himself as Butch, said he had sold only one T-shirt during the morning rush on Tuesday. He said he sold 11 Monday night.
“It’s a slow grind out here. Osama can’t touch the Obama T-shirt,” Butch said, referring to shirts featuring the president, which have been one of his bestsellers.
John Thomason, who was in town from Chicago, snapped a photo of the bin Laden T-shirt as he walked past but said he would never buy one.
“It is a collective good for the U.S. and the world that Bin Laden is gone, but it’s not in my constitution to celebrate someone’s death,” Thomason said.
Similarly, a manager with ABCTEES in Rockville, said that it didn’t feel right to print bin Laden T-shirts and that he had declined a couple of requests. Some vendors in Washington said they wouldn’t sell them.
Such feelings were hardly universal.
Linda Augustine, a tourist from Syracuse, N.Y., said she would be happy to get her hands on a bin Laden T-shirt.
“I would probably buy it for my grandson,” she said. “We’ve waited 10 years for him to be caught.”
Augustine’s grandson, Anthony Barker, chimed in, “I would probably use it for target practice.”