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“Obama-bilia” business booms on both sides of the border

Grant Hooker, founder and co-owner of BeaverTails Canada Inc., will be in Washington on Tuesday, serving up his company’s signature…

By Brandi Cowen , in Bridging the 49th Parallel , on January 19, 2009 Tags: , , , , , , ,

Grant Hooker, founder and co-owner of BeaverTails Canada Inc., will be in Washington on Tuesday, serving up his company’s signature treat at the Canadian embassy’s “invitation only” inauguration tailgate party.

In honour of the occasion, Hooker invented the Obama Tail: a deep-fried pastry coated in cinnamon and sugar, then topped off with an “O” made out of chocolate and maple syrup.

It’s corny and it’s gimmicky, but unlike most business owners cashing in on “Obama-mania,” Hooker’s giving his Obama-themed merchandise away. Since Barack Obama launched his presidential bid, the market for Obama memorabilia has exploded. Stores can’t keep Obama merchandise in stock and hundreds of websites have sprung up online, selling Obama t-shirts, sweatshirts, bumper stickers, messenger bags, fridge magnets and coffee mugs.

To quote some of the TV ads selling various Obama paraphernalia, “but wait – there’s more!”

You can own your very own coaster proclaiming that Obama is the “head brotha in charge”, or you can purchase a “Barack around the clock” wall clock. You can even cuddle up with an Obama-themed throw pillow knock-off of Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic.

There’s no end to the things people will try to market as “Obama-bilia” (case in point: the Yes We Can” opener), and it’s not just enterprising Americans cashing in on the trend. Obama-mania has spilled over the border, and so has Obama merchandise.

Canadians can dress their babies in “Barack-a-bye-baby” onesies to match mom’s “Obama Mama” t-shirt. They can even get their hands in a pair of Obama oven mitts, if they can find them.

Just like Grant Hooker with his Obama Tail, lots of business owners are trying anything they can think of to attract customers, and it’s working.

Americans have already spent almost $200 million on Obama-bilia. That number is expected to edge even higher on inauguration day.

There’s no telling how much Canadians have forked over for Obama-bilia, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s more than just a handful of loonies and toonies. Stores like Toronto’s Peach Berserk have reported that they just can’t keep up with the demand for all things Obama.

The main motivation driving the Obama-bilia boom may have been corporate greed, but that boom has come to serve a useful purpose, helping some businesses survive the onset of a global financial crisis. Obama’s inauguration is a historic event, and even people strapped for cash are willing to open their wallets to mark the occasion. This so-called one-man stimulus” isn’t a long-term solution to the economic crisis, but in the short-term, it’s bought some businesses a little more time to consider their options.

At the end of the day, the positive impact of the Obama-bilia craze doesn’t make some of the merchandise any less corny or gimmicky, but it does make items like the Obama Tail a little easier to swallow.


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