the business of papal bobbleheads News

| 29 Sep 2015 | 11:17

“WE SELL POPE DOLLS,” blared a sign held up by a 7-Eleven worker on 42nd Street in Manhattan, directing customers to a store down the block. There, on an outdoor stand, were six plushy, squeezable popes, nestled rather incongruously among individually wrapped croissants and chocolate chip muffins.

Employees stressed that the popes -- $19.99 plus tax, and over 100 sold so far -- were not edible.

The Phantom of Broadway souvenir store a few blocks away offered pope umbrellas, white or black, for $29.99. A few doors down at City Souvenirs, T-shirts advertised “I (Heart) Pope Francis” for $24.99. There were magnets of several varieties, and perhaps the ultimate papal souvenir: a Pope Francis bobblehead, made by Royal Bobbles, and selling for $59.99.

Whether to adorn your fridge, make a sartorial statement or protect yourself from the rain, there was certainly plenty of merchandise -- in stores and on the street, from licensed and unlicensed vendors -- to help mark and remember Pope Francis’ historic U.S. visit.

Mary Fitzgibbon and her husband, Michael, from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland, plunked down over $200 for souvenirs for their big family (they have five children).

Among their purchases were several small saint dolls. For one child they bought a T-shirt that read: “I am the generation that will abolish abortion.” Michael, who home-schools the children back in Ireland, said he realized these purchases were just small ones. “We’ll get something with more intrinsic value at the end of the trip,” he said.

Mary, a nursing teacher, was still looking to buy a Pope Francis bobblehead. But she had scored something else, a gift for her husband. It was a sweatshirt that said, on the back: “I am in love with a married woman! (My wife).”

Vendor Jason Thomas, 25, made his way through the crowd on New York’s Fifth Avenue with a stockpile of pope merchandise mounted on a hand-held cardboard palette. He quickly lightened his load as he sold off lanyards and Vatican flags for $10 each, with a “Welcome to America” pin featuring the pope’s face thrown in for free.

Thomas is from St. Louis but travels the country selling merchandise at big events -- football games, political rallies -- full time. All told, he said, he could bring in $10,000 during the papal visit.

“I’m an entrepreneur in America,” Thomas said. “I can send you a receipt and everything.”