An article in the July 6 editions incorrectly attributed to Jaleel Talibani a statement that requests for photographs with fake stand-up figures of President Reagan had dropped to 40 or 50 a day. Talibani, who has photo vendors working for him, did say photo requests had decreased, but attributed the decline primarily to competition rather than to a drop in Reagan's popularity. (Published 7/11/87)
While Capitol Hill strategists worry about President Reagan's stance on the issues, some snapshot vendors are more concerned about the chief executive's stand in the street.
Wooden Reagan figures that offer tourists a fake stand-up with the chief executive are being abused. That has alarmed photo vendors, who fear that the president's drop in popularity polls might translate into a drop in business.
Brian Pennington, a Michigan high school teacher who moonlights as a sidewalk souvenir hustler in the summer, offers the photo pose for tourists visiting the White House. He says tourists make comments about the Iran-contra affair "all the time."
"You have to listen to many disparaging comments," said Pennington, who sets up each day within eyeshot of the White House.
"There are a lot of people who will pass by and make negative comments, and a lot of people will pose in the picture choking him or punching him in the stomach or something like that," Pennington said. "It got pushed over a couple of times, but there has not been any serious damage done to it."
Despite the increase in surliness, there are still many tourists who say they believe that the figure is an insult to the president.
Pennington said that one passer-by suggested that vendors offer tourists a stand-up with figures of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and Navy Adm. John Poindexter.
Reagan figures are a serious investment, according to vendor Samuel Mall, who said the cutouts cost $900 apiece. Mall said that a year ago he could make as much as $400 during a weekend, but now he makes half that much when the large Saturday and Sunday crowds come.
"Sales have definitely gone down," said Mall. "Some days I am barely breaking even."
The picture-with-the-Prez craze hit its peak with election fever in the fall of 1984, when a vendor might have made 100 photos in a day, according to Jaleel Talibani, Pennington's boss.
But these days, says Talibani, who has vendors working for him around the White House, Connecticut Avenue and the Mall, requests for photos are down to 40 or 50 a day.
Even at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, one of the city's most active tourist spots, vendors have become so desperate for business that they have waged a price war.
Thursday morning, a pose with the chief went for $5. By late afternoon, the price had fallen as low as a $1.
Mall, who says he was one of the pioneers in the Reagan-posing business, would not go below $2. He bemoaned the drop-off in business, but he added, "The foreign tourists still like it."
What the vendors want is more people like Grant Adams, 60, a Cleveland resident who decided that a picture with a Reagan reproduction would be just the thing to show his friends back home.
"I think it's okay to have my picture taken with him," Adams said. "He is still the president."