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The Outsized Entrepreneurial World of Trump Merchandise

The Outsized Entrepreneurial World of Trump Merchandise

On rally days, the Trump-merchandise seller’s work begins before dawn. “I’ve been awake for twenty-four hours,” David, a roadside flag vender, told me cheerfully on Saturday, January 15th. “We drove all over, looking for the best spot.” The “Save America” rally in Florence, Arizona, hadn’t officially begun, but he’d already sold sixty Trump-themed flags, most for $39.95.

David, a first-generation American whose family moved to the Southwest from Mexico when he was a child, has been in the flag business since he was fifteen. Back then, he helped his stepfather sell banners to people who wanted to proclaim their allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys or to the state of New Mexico, among other things. Three years ago, with the market for flags booming, David went into business for himself. Although his stock includes gay-pride, Tupac Shakur, and Antifa flags, the Trump campaign, Presidency, and post-Presidency have been particularly good for business.

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The former President made good use of the office’s opportunities for merchandising. The “SHOP” section of Trump’s Web site features hats and T-shirts, as well as stemless wineglasses, plastic straws, playing cards, and Christmas stockings emblazoned with Trump’s name. According to his former campaign manager, by spring of 2019, he’d sold nearly a million red MAGA hats, priced at forty-five dollars each. But the official wares are supplemented by a parallel economy of ersatz Trump-branded ephemera sold at roadside stands, state-fair booths, strip-mall stores, online marketplaces, and by a caravan of itinerant salespeople who follow him from rally to rally.

Granata, Buddy Hall had told me, was “the godfather of all this,” gesturing vaguely at the merch empire sprawling across the festival grounds. “All these people that have jobs now, that’s due to him.” Granata is in his sixties, with a strained voice and an air of thinly concealed damage. His path to Trump world was circuitous. He’d been a vender of sorts since the eighties, when he sold guilty-boyfriend gifts on the streets of New York: teddy bears, flower arrangements in the shape of hearts. “We were selling love,” Granata said. He and his business partner, his half-brother, specialized in middle-of-the-night sales—partly to capture the most desperate customers, partly to dodge the cops. Their setup was illegal, because the waiting list for peddler’s licenses had more than a thousand names on it. Granata didn’t mind operating outside the law: a 1989 article in New York called him “the teddy-bear Trump . . . an entrepreneur and outlaw.”

The Outsized Entrepreneurial World of Trump Merchandise