Demand for bin Laden memorabilia tapers off fast

AP News
Posted: May 11, 2011 4:27 PM
Demand for bin Laden memorabilia tapers off fast

The day after Osama bin Laden was killed, street vendors and online merchants rushed to place special orders for T-shirts celebrating the demise of the world's most-wanted terrorist. But after an initial spike in orders, the appetite for bin Laden memorabilia is already fading.

Only one street vendor in Times Square was hawking the shirts on Tuesday, nine days after bin Laden's death. Others said they couldn't get them from wholesalers or thought the merchandise was either in poor taste or fading in relevance.

"I think the party's over as far as bin Laden is concerned," said vendor Steve Kalos, 62, who was selling sunglasses, pashminas and caps.

Two blocks south, 58-year-old Duane Jackson, one of the vendors who alerted police to an attempted car bombing in Times Square a year ago, had sold six dozen shirts that read "Obama Got Osama _ God Bless America!"

When Jackson began selling the $10 T-shirts last week, "they were jumping off the table," he said. European tourists snapped them up, and President Barack Obama's stop at a firehouse around the corner also boosted business, he said.

But his colleague, Walter "Candyman" Wells, 60, refused to order bin Laden shirts because he didn't want to capitalize on the terrorist's death.

"I don't want to see anybody benefiting from anybody getting killed," he said. "It didn't make sense, everybody jumping and cheering. Whoever's selling them, that's on them. I just can't do it."

Numerous online merchants scrambled to design original shirts after the announcement.

"The first two days were astronomical," said C.J. Grouse, president of RK T-Shirts in Cornelius, N.C.

Sales doubled as the company posted 15 designs and bought up keywords to increase its standing in Web searches. They sold about 4,000 of the shirts, the most popular bearing an image of Uncle Sam and proclaiming "We Got You, Osama Bin Laden." It costs $15.99.

Demand has decreased in recent days but is still stronger than average, Grouse said. Bin Laden may surpass Charlie Sheen, subject of another line of T-shirts that saw strong sales recently, he said.

At Ranger Up, a Durham, N.C., military apparel company, the top seller was a solemn black shirt bearing the date of bin Laden's death and two vertical lines evoking the twin towers, for $19.99. A quote from President George W. Bush at ground zero was emblazoned on the back: "We Will Not Fail."

"It's a very personal shirt for the military," said president Nick Palmisciano. "It's about the American spirit of staying with the mission."

After bin Laden's death, sales at the company were double what they were on Black Friday, traditionally the year's busiest shopping day. Increased Web traffic drove up sales numbers for other items as well, he said.

Palmisciano predicted the more thoughtful design would continue to sell in the months ahead, while sales of a humorous "most wanted list" shirt would quickly peter out.

At ground zero this week, one vendor was selling T-shirts that read "Justice At Last _ Bin Laden Killed by American Heroes" atop images of bin Laden's face and the fallen towers.

Gee Urban, 46, of Deptford, N.J., eyed them as she walked just north of the World Trade Center site.

"I think it's a good idea," she said of the shirts. "It sends a message."

But a group of French tourists was more interested in trying on wide-brimmed hats.

"I would never wear something like that," said Maryann Paulane, 29, a pharmacist from Paris, shaking her head at the vendor. "They just want to make money."

Back in midtown, the same T-shirt was spotted in a bargain bin at a discount store. It was on sale for $2