Street vendors offer insight into party politics

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The Bling Man, who is from Chicago, with his partner, Deborra Cooper, right, and a bystander who agreed to wear his hats inside the convention center.

The Democratic National Convention served as both creative outlet and job stimulus package for hundreds of vendors who lined the streets of downtown Denver — hawking political pins, jewelry, hats and T-shirts.
Some of the vendors came from as far away as Dallas and Los Angeles, while others make their living hawking flags and other items at Invesco Field and the Pepsi Center every weekend. Some were inspired by the candidates to design original items, and others wanted to make some money while promoting a cause they’re passionate about.
That’s the case for Dan Graeve, the juggling entrepreneur. A social worker who took the week off to juggle for amusement — and cash — Graeve’s cause is global climate change. While few people dropped money into his bucket, many stopped to examine his sign, which showed the effects of rising ocean currents.
“Does asking for money cheapen it?” he asked. “No, I don’t think so. It’s something I can do — I can do the crafty things. This issue is apolitical — it’s about survival. I feel passionate about this, I’m consumed with it.”
To sell items on the street, vendors had to be licensed through the state, and some had to get the official seal of approval from the Democrat Party. And as the week wore on, the number of entrepreneurs hawking their wares grew exponentially.
Another vendor, who gave his name only as “the Bling Man of Chicago” is passionate about his “bling” wear — sparkly hats and pins in sparkly bags that feature both Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s names. He had a bulletin board filled with pictures of celebrities gamely smiling and wearing his gear.
“I’ve known Obama since he was a precinct captain,” the bling man said. “I didn’t believe him at first. I’m from the projects, and you see a black man in a suit, you think he’s sold out. Then I heard he turned down a job as a high-powered attorney to work in the projects — I’ve been doing this ever since.”
But not exclusively. He also sells clothing with Hillary Clinton’s name, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Snoop Dog and other celebrities. But while he is a very good promoter of his own items, the bling man said this week is about the political statement, not about making money.
“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “Better than most people. We stand out. We don’t get lost in the crowd.”
Partner Deborra Cooper said she believed in The Bling Man and his goods. “We’re having a great time here,” she said. “Met some great people. We love the delegates.”
But it’s all business for Robert Ulrich, who makes his living selling T-shirts and flags at Denver sporting events and rock concerts. Business was slow, he said.
“These really are for Invesco Field,” he said, pointing to the cart full of Obama flags. “But we thought we’d try it down here at the convention center. We’ll be over at the Pepsi Center later. It’s slow today, but we’ll be all right.”
Independent artist Lisabeth Weter started making political buttons for a living 20 years ago. She’s sold her pins to Hillary Clinton, and hopes Michelle Obama will take a look. But as a “mobile selling unit” she didn’t do so well this week at the Colorado Convention Center.
“Yesterday, I had a really good day, and I’m planning to go to the NOW (National Organization for Women) Liber-tea soon. I think I’ll do well there,” said Weter, whose buttons are cute, perky and don’t take slaps at Republicans.
That’s sharp contrast to Dallas salesman William Stanley, who designed T-shirts for the event that feature Barack Obama with Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’ve been to a few places downtown,” he said. “And it’s going OK — pretty much what I expected. “
T-shirts and buttons were the most popular items. An Obama bobble-head doll and a giant Clinton ink pen were also spotted.
One of the buttons, touted as the “best item” at the convention, featured a laughing Obama.
John McCain as a stone-age Fred Flintstone sold well, as did buttons accusing Dick Cheney of having no heart.
Other big sellers were T-shirts that proclaimed “I only sleep with Democrats.”