NEW YORK -- “WE SELL POPE DOLLS,” blared a sign held up by a 7-Eleven worker on 42nd Street in Manhattan, directing customers to a store down the block. There, on an outdoor stand, were six plushy, squeezable popes, nestled rather incongruously among individually wrapped croissants and chocolate chip muffins.
Employees stressed that the popes -- $19.99 plus tax, and over 100 sold so far -- were not edible.
The Phantom of Broadway souvenir store a few blocks away offered pope umbrellas, white or black, for $29.99. A few doors down at City Souvenirs, T-shirts advertised “I (Heart) Pope Francis” for $24.99. There were magnets of several varieties, and perhaps the ultimate papal souvenir: a Pope Francis bobblehead, made by Royal Bobbles, and selling for $59.99.
“I ordered 24, and have sold all but five,” said Samir Sabir, the store’s manager. “People are really interested in all the pope items. I’m ordering more.”
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Whether to adorn your fridge, make a sartorial statement or protect yourself from the rain, there’s certainly plenty of merchandise -- in stores and on the street, from licensed and unlicensed vendors -- to help mark and remember Pope Francis’ historic U.S. visit.
In Washington, where the pontiff made his first U.S. stop, Victor Wondu was selling pins and flags earlier this week at the Apostolic Nunciature, where the pope was staying. Some pins said, “I (Heart) Pope Francis”; others said “I was there! Pope Francis USA” (the top seller). Wondu, a freelance artist from District Heights, Maryland, said the pins were designed by a friend, for $5 each or three for $10. Flags were $10 each.
In Philadelphia, the last stop on the pope’s U.S. trip, Melissa and Rodney Cameron of Gardendale, Alabama, weren’t taking any chances they’d be unprepared, souvenir-wise, when the pope arrived Saturday.
The couple, both bank employees who were in town with their 8-year-old son, Connor, for the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families that the pope is attending, had just dropped $110 for a bag full of souvenirs, including two Pope Francis coffee mugs ($20 apiece), two T-shirts, and a sweatshirt.
And it wasn’t even their first round of purchases. They had already picked up a book and a shirt for their priest, and five rosaries with the profile of Pope Francis.
“We want to take back to our relatives and share with family who are not Catholic. It’s a way to evangelize,” Rodney Cameron said. He added that he was having a hard time not buying even more. “I would probably spend more, but she stops me,” he said, nodding to his wife.
Mary Fitzgibbon and her husband, Michael, from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland, plunked down over $200 for souvenirs Thursday for their big family (they have five children).
Among their purchases were several small saint dolls. For one child they bought a T-shirt that read: “I am the generation that will abolish abortion.” Michael, who home-schools the children back in Ireland, said he realized these purchases were just small ones. “We’ll get something with more intrinsic value at the end of the trip,” he said.
Mary, a nursing teacher, was still looking to buy a Pope Francis bobblehead. But she had scored something else, a gift for her husband. It was a sweatshirt that said, on the back: “I am in love with a married woman! (My wife).”
Vendor Jason Thomas, 25, made his way through the crowd on New York’s Fifth Avenue on Thursday with a stockpile of pope merchandise mounted on a hand-held cardboard palette. He quickly lightened his load as he sold off lanyards and Vatican flags for $10 each, with a “Welcome to America” pin featuring the pope’s face thrown in for free.
Thomas is from St. Louis but travels the country selling merchandise at big events -- football games, political rallies -- full time. All told, he said, he could bring in $10,000 during the papal visit.
“I’m an entrepreneur in America,” Thomas said. “I can send you a receipt and everything.”