Yes, it's a potpourri of pope products Plenty of souvenirs already on shelves in anticipation of visit

September 25, 1995|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

No sooner does Cal Ripken mania begin to wane in Baltimore than the pope hits town.

Blessed are the souvenir hawkers.

Already popeabilia with a Baltimore bent are on the shelves. You can buy a coffee mug on which the pope's visage materializes over the Baltimore skyline when you pour in a hot beverage. Or a T-shirt featuring the Holy Father blessing a bushel of crabs. In one hand, he is holding a can of Old Bay.

If past papal visits to the United States are any indication, this is just the beginning. Before the pope arrives here, expect to see all manner of pope merchandise on the streets of Charm City, from foam miters to pope-on-a-rope soap to papal sprinklers (they squirt water from the pope's upraised hands).

The Holy Father, it seems, is not only infallible. He sells.

"We've talked to the people in Denver [where the pope visited in 1993], and everyone sold out of everything," said Don Bromer, a manager and buyer for the Maryland Bay Company in Harborplace. "We're just going to brace ourselves for an onslaught."

The merchandise will come in authorized and unauthorized varieties. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has contracted through Harry Block Graphics of Crofton to sell a line of products bearing a logo created for the pope's Baltimore visit. The logo is a variation on the yellow, black and red flag of Maryland with the words "John Paul II" and "Baltimore" and the dates of Oct. 7 and 8. (The official celebration of his visit begins the [See Pope, 4A] day before his arrival.) For sale are 16 items, including an all-cotton T-shirt (suggested retail price $15), key ring ($2), tote bag ($10), and golf hat ($15) and shirt ($30).

In addition, the archdiocese will sell a commemorative book (hardcover, $39.95; paperback, $24.95), a commemorative video ($14.95) and a souvenir program ($10).

Bill Blaul, a spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese, said church officials overcame initial reluctance before deciding to jump into merchandising. "The first thought was it wasn't something we wanted to be involved in because of the complexity of it, of doing all the things you need to do to produce and sell T-shirts and coffee cups and caps and key chains and stuff like that.

"But certain few things became clear, one of which was that there was a great demand for these items, and also we knew there were many people out there who were going to descend on Baltimore with shoddy merchandise, trying to make a quick buck and get out of town."

Brisk sales expected

Of course, the archdiocese stands to make a buck or two itself, Mr. Blaul acknowledges, though he declines to divulge how much. Harry Block Graphics, which handled merchandising for tours of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, paid a fee to the archdiocese for the right to sell the merchandise and will also share a percentage of the sales. After the pope's departure, Mr. Blaul said the archdiocese will make a public accounting of the sales, all of which will help offset the costs of the papal visit.

Still, with about 47,000 Catholics expected to attend Camden Yards for the papal Mass and at least 100,000 watching the parade, sales should be healthy. The archdiocese has approved production of 40,000 T-shirts, 25,000 lapel pins, 20,000 tote bags and 75,000 souvenir programs.

The official merchandise is being distributed to retailers around the city as well as to parishes interested in selling it. In addition, the product line will be sold at Camden Yards and at 35 outlets along the parade route.

In using a logo and not the pope's image, the Baltimore Archdiocese has made a decision that is at once conservative and risky. It is also at odds with archdioceses in New York and Newark, N.J., which have put the pope's face on merchandise they have approved for sale.

PTC Ernest Ricca, co-owner of Robbi Promotional in Newark, which is handling the church's merchandising in New York and Newark, was befuddled by the Baltimore Archdiocese's decision not to use the pope's face.

"If you're at one of these events and they have these two kinds of merchandise, which do you think people would rather have?" said Mr. Ricca. "I think it's definitely more marketable to put his face on there."

David Adler, director of purchasing for Towson's Greetings and Readings, which expects to sell both authorized and unauthorized papal products, agreed. "People identify with his image, not some logo," said Mr. Adler.

Mr. Blaul said the decision not to use the pope's image was out of respect for his office. "We are not as an archdiocese in the business of bargaining the pope's picture, image or likeness," he said.

Careful selection

The archdiocese also was careful in its selection of official merchandise. Unlike in New York and New Jersey, there will be no official Pope Watches or Pope Water. There also will be no Papal Pogs, thousands of which are being produced by the Camden Diocese to tap into the kiddie market.

The Baltimore Archdiocese has refused to allow the use of its logo on a range of products other merchandisers have brought to them, including the crab-blessing pope design and papal doughnuts, which a bakery in York produced.

"A lot of it is very tacky," Mr. Blaul said. "Many of these people will descend on town with one motivation, and that's to make money. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but let's remember this is a faith healer, this is a head of state and many people hold that very, very dear."

Damien Russell, whose Elkridge company, Mullethead Designs, created the image of the pope blessing the crabs, says his design is not intended to be offensive. "There's been some bad feedback, but the bottom line is it's a jovial design not meant to cause any damage," said Mr. Russell, who sent one of the T-shirts to the Vatican for the pope himself. Gratis.

As for sales here, Mr. Russell said, "The orders are just flying off the shelves."

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