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Early Sales to Nationals Fans Score Big

Hundreds Show Up on Store's Opening Day for Caps, Pennants, Other Paraphernalia

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page B03

The 1,000-square-foot gray trailer, in Parking Lot 4 of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium next to a blue port-a-potty, might not have been the ideal location for a retail outlet.

But that didn't seem to bother the hundreds of baseball fans who thronged to the opening yesterday of the first Washington Nationals merchandise store.

Charles Berry checks the fit of a Nationals hat. Hundreds of fans thronged to the opening of the first Washington Nationals merchandise store -- a trailer in Parking Lot 4 of RFK Stadium. (Kevin Clark - The Washington Post)

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"It's just like Opening Day," exclaimed Ed Chabay, 41, who took a break from his engineering job at the Navy Yard to score a red Nationals cap and pennant. "When I heard it on the radio this morning I said, 'We have got to go.' "

The store was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. But there was a change of plans after local television and radio stations aired reports on the store at 7:30 a.m.

Five minutes later, a man showed up to buy a hooded sweat shirt, said Sean A. Ryan, national general manager for Facility Merchandising Inc., which operates the Nationals store as well as shops for 14 other Major League Baseball franchises.

So Ryan decided to open 2 1/2 hours early. "You never turn a customer away," he grinned.

As it turned out, the store's opening came just hours before baseball owners voted to approve the team's relocation from Montreal to Washington. The D.C. Council is scheduled to take a final vote Dec. 14 on the financing package for a new stadium.

Exactly 226 types of Nationals paraphernalia -- including 15 styles of caps -- stocked the shelves of the store yesterday, Ryan said. By Opening Day, there will be more than 1,800.

Authentic jerseys, priced at $199, will be available within two weeks, after the Nationals approve the design of player uniforms, Ryan said. The priciest item currently available: a $68 red sweat shirt, a blend of cotton and polyester with a Nationals logo on the front.

On-duty paramedics and lawyers on their lunch break browsed caps, long-sleeved shirts, tank tops and navy blue children's sweat shirts.

Toddler Scott McKee of Gaithersburg, however, was only interested in one item. "I want a ball!" he yelled as he tottered around in tiny corduroy overalls.

Several customers on surreptitious breaks from work seemed more concerned with maintaining their anonymity, slinking around like undercover agents.

"Don't you dare point that camera at me," one woman snapped at a television cameraman filming the store opening.

But some real-life law enforcement agents, such as U.S. Capitol Police officer Bob Gwynn, were unable to avoid detection.

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