'It Sucks,' and Everything Else That's Wrong With Trying to Sell Trump Merchandise at RNC

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click to enlarge Brian Timmons remains in good spirits, despite a near-total lack of customer traffic in the official vending zone.
Brian Timmons remains in good spirits, despite a near-total lack of customer traffic in the official vending zone.
You've surely noticed the row of RNC-related merchandise filling out Euclid Avenue this week. "Hillary for Prison" shirts, "Donald Fucking Trump" shirts, "Make American Great Again" hats, etc. It's all a bit imposing, but it's no different than the Trump campaign trail's ubiquitous hawkers earlier this year.

Here's the issue, though: Euclid Avenue is not a sanctioned vendor zone, according to the city's own permit applications. No one should be selling anything at the Euclid/East Fourth intersection, and yet three days of conventioning have transpired with little to no accountability from City Hall.

The people who actually applied for vending permits and set up shop in the official vending zones? They got screwed. As one vendor put it simply, "It sucks."

On Superior Avenue, Brian Timmons is in town from northwest Indiana. "It's the worst show we've been too," he said, contrasting the convention against the Trump rallies earlier this year.

He and his crew almost skipped the convention due to security concerns, but, nevertheless, he's been very pleased with how the police have held things down. "We're having fun with it," Timmons says. "It's not even about the money at this point." In front of him, towers of unsold shirts stood in the July heat.

Just down the road near West 3rd, Jenny sits at a table still stacked with shirts and buttons. I ask if she's been selling anything. "Not really," she says. "We've done other events and festivals, and just being in this location you're not getting as many tourists as you could." Nearby, a bus brakes loudly and picks up one passenger.

She's from Cleveland, so she brought a stash of local stuff with her, too, which has saved her bottom line. "We're selling a lot of LeBron James and 'Cleveland Rocks' shirts. But those things are timeless, while Trump things are more dated."

At Euclid and East Fourth, where vendors are operating mostly without proper permits, business is booming.

One man tells me that he just paid a $200 fee on Wednesday, essentially circumventing the permit and building the cost into his balance sheet. "This is the spot," he says outside House of Blues. "[We were] over in the Warehouse District. I can't believe they're telling us to sell over there. But we're from Cleveland, so we know where to be."

Another man on Euclid said he was cleaning up too. "Everybody moved over here, because some [assessors] weren't checking [for permits]." He told Scene that the four-day permit cost $450, which was simply not true. 

It's pretty easy to spot the permits, which are similarly strung along lanyards a la press credentials. Most simply aren't displayed, because many vendors don't have them.

The three vending zones are odd, to say the least: There's the Warehouse District (West 3rd to West 9th), a stretch of East 12th, and portions of the CSU campus. To anyone with even a bit of geographical knowledge here, those areas have been guaranteed ghost towns all week. (I'm writing a bit of this story from Map Room, in the Warehouse District, where a bartender tells me it's been the "worst week ever" for business.) This is a problem, and the city has slept on this narrative all week.

Jay and CeCe spent countless hours and thousands of dollars pressing Trump shirts and buttons in the weeks leading up to the RNC. They applied for a permit — meeting and talking extensively with City Hall, to keep all official paperwork in order — and found themselves selling literally nothing in the official vending zone. By the time Scene met them on Wednesday, they had pulled their stuff off the streets altogether. "I'm going to take my chances on Etsy," CeCe, a Cleveland resident, says.

In the shadows of an event that celebrates both capitalism and obedience of the law, CeCe and Jay are flabbergasted that the city has allowed unlicensed vending to continue almost completely unabated all week. 

When Scene asked an employee of the Division of Assessments and Licenses what permitted vendors were supposed to make of all this, we were immediately transferred to another employee's voicemail. We'll let you know if we hear back.

"This was not geared toward us," CeCe says, throwing a contrast between local vendors like herself and the corporate sponsors reaping benefits throughout the convention. "They did not have local businesses in mind. We're hurting, and it's not something that I would ever do again."

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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