Tucked behind a tidy souvenir shop storefront on the ground floor of an office building one block from the White House, t-shirts, sweatshirts, buttons and a vast assortment of inauguration paraphernalia is staged for an onslaught of purchasing.
Over the course of the weekend, which culminates on Monday on the grassy, park-like National Mall when US President Barack Obama will be sworn in for a second time, Washington businesses that cater to tourists are girding for a deluge of customers.
“It’s just breathtaking in the store during those days,” said Andrew Gallagher, general manager at White House Gifts, whose shop is located on the inaugural parade route.
This year’s inauguration has shrunk to an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people from the record-breaking 1.8 million who showed up for Obama’s first swearing in four years ago, but that hasn’t reduced his expectation for financial gain.
“When you’re a store that’s 3,500 square feet, there are only so many people you can fit in the store,” Gallagher said.
Statistics for how much business the inauguration brings to the city aren’t generally tabulated, but Max Farrow, DC Chamber of Commerce director of communications, said that in terms of general tourism, each visit to DC generates about $336 in expenditures.
“We do know that in inauguration years, on average we see about a four percent increase in hotel occupancy than in non-inauguration years” for January, said Alicia Malone, a media relations manager at Destination DC, a nonprofit that manages and markets tourism in the capital.
At the Tabard Inn, a quirky hotel and restaurant in Washington’s trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood, general manager Jeremiah Cohen said rooms are sold out for the weekend and the restaurant will be packed, but the establishment’s biggest moment comes Monday.
“Imagine, like, everything being dictated by the end of swearing in and thousands of people who are famished,” Cohen says.
“The flood gates open and I’d say thousands of people start walking north,” heading all the way to his restaurant, a favorite with locals, a mile away.
For Rich Benning, president of production company All Stage and Sound, Inc., the work that will be done over the four-day rush from Friday through Monday creates four times the business he usually sees in January.
The unofficial balls that are clustered near the Mall, with their staging, sound, and lighting needs, are the company’s inaugural bread and butter this year.
“Because of this push here, we actually went out and bought more speakers and cable” said Benning. “You can’t use it throughout the year, but just because it’s all so compressed during this one period of time.”
For most, inauguration is a boon, but not for John Rider, who sells burritos from an unassuming cart on the corner of 15th and K Streets, two blocks from the White House.
His main clientele are the people who work in the surrounding multi-floor office buildings, who will be taking a three-day weekend on account of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
“If I thought there was a chance I could open up and make good money, I’d be down there,” at the Mall, he said, but in his past gigs at large crowds, such as Washington’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, he said throngs passed his cart by.
As a mass of visitors descend on the city and businesses fling their doors open, his is one shop that will be shuttering.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]