The Memorial Economy: Never Forget? It’ll Cost Ya

At Ground Zero, the Trade in 9/11 Tchotchkes is Going Strong

But who’s doing the nailing? The designers and marketers of 9/11 souvenirs range from small home-run outfits to conventional major manufacturers. The Tribute Center, a project of the non-profit September 11th Families Association, gets apparel for its gift shop through large-scale outfits—like T-shirt giant Gildan—who hold licenses for N.Y.P.D. and related gear. Taking a similar tack, the Memorial & Museum retail section partnered with NYC&Co. to acquire special-made clothing and paraphernalia co-branded with the New York City Police and Fire departments. But they’ve also been known to take on less prominent suppliers, private individuals with a poster who just want to contribute something.

One of the smaller producers out there is Igor Malotarsky. As a photographer, he takes shots of various New York City landmarks, then turns the printed photographs into hand-made postcards. One of them, an image of the Brooklyn Bridge with the double beams of the 9/11 “Tribute in Lights” in the background, is on sale in the gift shop of the 9/11 Tribute WTC Center.

“I took that the very first time they turned them on,” in 2002, he said. Some years later, he was approached at the New York International Gift Fair by representatives of the Tribute store. World Trade products are not central to Mr. Malotarsky’s work—“mostly I do Christmas”—but the size and pace of orders from the center shop, he says, are considerable.

Other sources of 9/11 memorabilia aren’t necessarily a party to the memorabilia-zation of their work. Thomas E. Franklin is the Bergen Record photographer who snapped the now-famous photo of the flag-raising at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the attack. That image appears on magnets also for sale at Tribute WTC—but Mr. Franklin didn’t negotiate the license. The paper owns the copyright to that image, and it, in turn, defers questions related to its use to a legal representative of the firefighters who appear in it. (The lawyer, Eliot Green, did not respond to press inquires.)

Not everyone dealing in keepsakes is eager to participate in the Sept. 11 traffic. Kenny Bookbinder is the owner of one of New York City’s largest distributors of tourist souvenirs, Big Apple Enterprises, as well as a maker of regionally themed merchandise, Fifth Avenue Manufacturers. At the International Gift Fair last month, Mr. Bookbinder presided over a whole corridor of stalls with an assortment of “I (Heart) New York” luggage tags and Jeter-jerseyed teddy bears, exactly as you might see in any of the hundreds of New York City tourist shops that stock his wares. Yet, there wasn’t a 9/11- themed item in the bunch.

“None of our suppliers specialize in 9/11 memorabilia,” says Mr. Bookbinder. “We had a World Trade design, but after 9/11 we stopped making it. It’s an awkward thing. I imagine there’ll be an increase in business [around the anniversary], but we’re not doing anything.” When other manufacturers present him with Sept. 11 ideas, “I reject them all. It just feels like we’d be taking advantage of an uncomfortable situation.”

Mr. Bookbinder’s position may be laudable, from a certain point of view. But the demand for 9/11 merchandise is real, and among those who feel it, the impulse is heartfelt. Last week, Londoners Susie Redfern, mother Nelia and husband Scott McAvoy were in town for a wedding. All were making their first visit to Lower Manhattan, and bought about $20 worth of picture books from one of Bao’s competitors. “We’ve got such a short time here,” said Ms. Redfern. “These help us learn something, as opposed to just standing here and then walking away.”

What they walked away with, it has to be said, is a little appalling. The main 43-page pamphlet in circulation among the Ground Zero vendors bears the heading “Day of Tragedy: September 11th, 2001/We will never forget!” beside other inscriptions and subtitles, including “Memorial Edition,” “A Document of American History,” etc. On the first overleaf within, under a photograph of the enormous towers as they once stood, reads this caption: “The Clam before the reign of terror.”

That booklet features no credits for either the photographs or writers whose images and texts appear in it. Not so with “Never Forget,” another popular item with the downtown crew. This one makes some show of crediting various photogs, the majority of them from the book’s own publisher, Carlos Chavez. It even mentions a writer, Rosa Cespedes, though a cursory Internet search reveals that most of Ms. Cespdes’s text was lifted lock, stock and spelling errors from Wikipedia. (Ms. Chavez has not responded to inquiries as of press time.)

The Memorial Economy: Never Forget? It’ll Cost Ya