Photographer John Conn, one of the few Barack Obama-free vendors in Union Square these days, is looking forward to the end of the election. Over the past three months dozens of artistically inclined young thirty-somethings, seasoned street merchants and newly minted idealists have been selling election gear on 17th Street between Broadway and Fourth Avenue, and crowding Union Square stalwarts and artists like Mr. Conn out of the market.
“I want McCain to win because I sell my subway photos on T-shirts and the Obama T-shirts are killing my business,” he said on Monday morning. “I need McCain. I’m kidding, but the Obama T-shirt people take up more spaces that could be occupied by artists. These guys don’t make their T-shirts, so I’m concerned about the artists actually making their own stuff.”
With the exception of Mr. Conn and a two-year veteran of Union Square’s retail scene, the eight other sellers I interviewed on Monday had all set-up shop in the plaza within the past one to three months. They were unsure about what they would do after the election, regardless of the winner.
Jeremy Marquez started selling $15 brown Barack Obama tank tops and T-shirts at the Democratic National Convention in Denver over the summer. He decided to continue the T-shirt business when he and his wife moved to New York City in October. By Monday, his third day in Union Square, he had sold 42 T-shirts and said he planned to continue after Election Day.
Alex Mahgoub left his job in sales because he “wasn’t happy” and started the “Barack Fridays” company. For the past month, he has been stationed at Union Square, selling between 11 to 50 T-shirts a day. Though he was off to a slow start Monday morning, if Senator Obama wins he plans to hold out until Wednesday at least.
“If we sell 15 today, that will be pretty amazing,” Mr. Mahgoub said. “Even though it’s Monday before the election the question is are people buying T-shirts or are they getting excited and motivated to vote tomorrow?
“I think Nov. 5 will be a good day if Barack Obama wins, because it’s like the Phillies winning the World Series. Everyone wants the Phillies gear. People are going to feel like they missed out on this historic moment if they didn’t get a shirt or a piece of this rocky ride, you know?”
Filmmaker, former pizza deliveryman and founder of the Dishonestees company, Karim Pertew, moved from Mulberry Street to Union Square a month ago with a collection of tongue-and-cheek political shirts that he and his brother designed. He sells 15 to 50 shirts daily for between $15 to $35. The “Buddha Obama” and “OmBama” designs picturing Senator Obama sitting in the lotus position sold out within a week, Mr. Pertew said, and he will continue to carry them after the election.
But other t-shirts, like Senator Obama dressed as a breakdancer and carrying a boom box for with the words “B-Rock” written in graffiti, will go after the election when Mr. Pertew plans to return to apolitical apparel like the “Vagina is for Lovers” t-shirt. He has not decided whether he will go back to Mulberry Street, though.