Vermonter creates popular political merchandise

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(Host) Ever since satirist Vaughan Meader released the album “The First Family” in 1962, which parodied the Kennedy White House, political merchandise has been a big holiday seller.

This year, one Vermont entrepreneur has created some of the season’s most popular political merchandise and he’s done it using a very simple message.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Irreverent and sometime shocking humor is usually the stock in trade of the cottage industry of merchandise that crops up around any President’s administration. Every Chief Executive is immortalized with bobble head dolls and Halloween masks, and skewered on bumper stickers and tee shirts.

Elliott Nachwalter says he’s more interested in making a statement than getting a laugh or shocking people.

All of Nachwalter’s merchandise, from tee shirts and coffee mugs to hats and key chains bears the same message: The date 1/20/09 and the words Bush’s Last Day . Today nearly three hundred stores around the country carry his products. Nachwalter says the simplicity of his message is the key to his success.

(Nachwalter) “There’s some pretty rude Bush bashing stuff out there. And, while some of it is sold, most people wouldn’t want it on the back of their car.”

(Zind) Nachwalter is a Johnson State College graduate who came of age in the Vietnam era. He believes image and marketing help create political movements and remembers seeing the earliest merchandising of the anti-war movement in Greenwich Village.

(Nachwalter) “There was a little button store on MacDougal Street and that’s probably where the first peace button was sold and that really went on to create a whole movement that was so powerful to end the war.”

(Zind) Last year in a state of political dismay, Nachwalter decided to produce his own buttons. His first run of several hundred didn’t begin to meet the demand. So he made more. He came up with other products like Bush’s last day tee shirts, hats and mugs.

(Nachwalter) “We started only selling to a few stores in Vermont, kind of experimenting. They did so well, we went on.”

(Zind) Last January, Nachwalter took his wares to a gift show in New York City and retailers clamored for them.

He says so far he’s sold hundreds of thousands of items. As demand has grown, his workday has lengthened. With the help of a small group of family and friends Nachwalter puts in about fifteen hours a day filling orders. He hasn’t had time to add up his sales, but he says it’s more important to him to make a political statement than it is to make a buck.

He hopes people who visit his Website to buy merchandise will get involved with one of the like minded groups he links to there.

The most popular item Nachwalter sells is a countdown clock. Not only does it tick off the remaining days, hours, minutes and seconds in the Bush administration, it counts down to the time when Nachwalter can go back to his other business -which is selling outdoor gear and handmade wooden pipes from a store he owns in Manchester.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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