Souvenir vendors find business something less than a blessing Low turnout, market glut combine for sluggish sales THE POPE IN BALTIMORE

October 09, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Scores of hawkers descended on Camden Yards before dawn yesterday to sell everything from papal "rookie" cards to temporary pope tattoos to luminescent papal medallions.

"I'm a straight-up salesman. I know I can make a deal," said Alfred Hughes, who made hundreds of "Long Live the Pope" T-shirts in anticipation of the Mass and parade. "I'm going to make some money today."

But the smaller-than-anticipated crowds and huge inventory of souvenirs meant smaller papal profits for many vendors -- and plenty of leftover merchandise.

"I expected to see so much more pedestrian traffic," said Mary Beth Mathews, a vendor near the Baltimore Arena who arrived downtown at 4 a.m. to prepare for an onslaught that never came.

"It's a real disappointment to me," she said. "I guess people were warned all week about how busy it was going to be and so they just stayed home and watched it on TV."

Much of the merchandise was sanctioned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, including an array of T-shirts, windbreakers, teddy bears, key chains and water bottles emblazoned with the yellow, black and red flag of Maryland and the words "John Paul II."

But those official gifts could not bear the pope's likeness -- the marketing ploy was considered crass by the church hierarchy. Instead, independent hawkers roamed the streets with the papal face plastered on all manner of souvenirs.

Visitors could buy mugs on which the pope's picture appears over the city's skyline when a hot beverage is poured into the cup. Another T-shirt featured the pontiff blessing a bushel of crabs. Another depicted a phony front page of The Sun.

Several people sold their own papal products. A man waving a handful of disposable cameras over his head biked up Charles Street screaming "Pope-amatics For Sale." A woman in a glitter-specked miter sold books about the pope's childhood from the parade route on Pratt Street. A nun sold anti-abortion bumper stickers for $1 apiece.

The stadium helped set the tone for some of the gifts as Cal Ripken memorabilia outsold papal products at some souvenir stands.

"I had two tables set up [Saturday] night, one with Cal stuff and one with pope stuff," said Camden Yards vendor John Ruplenas. "Cal was outselling the pope."

Mr. Ruplenas was selling papal "rookie" cards -- a shot of the pope with the date of his Baltimore visit encased in a plastic sleeve -- as a bonus with each $1 soda.

John Kennedy, who called himself "one of the tackiest guys out here," was under control as he sold temporary papal tattoos by the parade route. His conservative designs included a likeness of the pope, a papal coat of arms and an image that combined the pope's picture with that of an American flag.

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