Street vendors and other sellers of memorabilia for the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington are looking for the event today to be a boon to small local businesses and to help pay the tab for the march itself.
"We expect to make a killing at the March on Washington," said one 32-year-old souvenir vendor from Northeast Washington who asked not to be identified. "And what is so beautiful about it is that it's all for a good cause: 'Jobs, Peace and Freedom.' "
City vending officials predicted yesterday that about 500 vendors--more than twice the number licensed to sell goods during this year's July 4th celebration--would set up their curbside businesses along the fringes of the Mall and sell a variety of memorabilia as well as food and soft drinks.
Among the souvenirs are special balloons, T-shirts, buttons and flags. Some of the merchandise bears color pictures of Martin Luther King. Jr. and most feature the theme, "Jobs, Peace and Freedom."
Private vendors are not the only ones involved in selling merchandise at the march today, however. March organizers themselves will also be selling souvenirs in order to pay bills incurred through march activities. Peter Parham, coordinator of sales and money collection for the march, said the event's cost has reached about $500,000.
He said that about 75 percent of the money needed has been raised and that march organizers hope to be able to raise the rest today--about $125,000--from donations and sales profits.
A team of 42 volunteers will sell memorabilia today at tables and booths set up on the Mall.
March sponsors have purchased about 10,000 T-shirts, 4,000 "Miss Liberty" posters, 2,000 paperweights and plaques, 3,000 caps and about 50,000 souvenir programs. They also hope to raise money by passing buckets among the crowd and asking for last-minute donations.
"It's important for people to be able to go home with something that holds and keeps alive the memories of the day. It's supposed to be an emotionally moving day," said Leslie Cagan, an assistant coordinator of sales and money collection for the march.
By law, private vendors are prohibited from soliciting on the Mall. But D.C. Police will hold a lottery this morning to dole out space along Independence Avenue NW and other side streets off Constitution Avenue NW. Police offficials said that there is limited space and that they may not be able to accommodate all the vendors who show up.
Orders for memorabilia have meant a boom in business for local wholesalers. The paperweights and plaques, both with brass-plated tops, were made by Visual Reproductions, Inc., a black-owned company located at 54 M St. NW.
"This has been the biggest order in our short history," said Gerald C. Watson, president of the 4-month-old company. It's been a lot of work for us. We've been able to create some jobs, which is the theme of the march," he said.
An official in the D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs office, which issues vending licenses, said that among private vendors, "there is of course the motivation to exploit this event.
But, for the most part, vendors are not rushing in just to make money," the official said. "Their attitude is excellent. They want to make a contribution."