News & Politics

Tourists Are Still Coming to DC—But No One’s Asking for Melania Souvenirs

To explore more of “Our Year of Trump,” a look at how our city has dealt with 12 exhausting months, click here.

The Street Vendor

Jae Young Shin

Souvenir vendor along Constitution Avenue, near the Mall

“I’m surprised to see people look for [Barack] Obama merchandise. But people are still looking. Also Michelle Obama—they love her. We have Obama bags, bobbleheads, T-shirts that say hope. Trump merchandise is popular especially with little kids, teenage students. The funny thing is people are looking for merchandise that says MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, not [stuff] with his face on it. . . . A lot of people express that they don’t like Trump, even ask us why we are selling the merchandise, but we are just business owners.”

The Gift-Shop Owner

Jim Warlick

Owner of White House Gifts, an independent shop on 15th Street, Northwest, near the White House

“We’re down about 13 percent from what we normally would expect with presidential souvenirs. . . . By the end of the Obama presidency, Michelle Obama was the bestselling items we had. We do not have anything for this First Lady, so maybe part of the sales are down because we don’t have products. It’s not that we make a decision not to carry her—we haven’t been approached by any suppliers. What’s interesting is no one’s asked if we have anything for her.”

The Tour Operator

Andrew Rawls

Owner of Fiat Luxe Tours in DC

“I do mostly private tours of two to five people, families coming to town. I gave tours to about 300 from January through September 2016. This year, I have given tours to half that number—154. I can’t say for sure it was because of the new administration, but there is no other reason I can think of. And I used to get more from the West Coast and East Coast—now I see a larger number of people from the Midwest.”

The Tourists

Henrik Kastbjerg

Visiting from Denmark

“It’s interesting to hear what Americans think about Trump. Some are saying he’s crazy, like a child. In Denmark, we are not against Trump. We think he’s a little bit crazy about some things, but the USA is our friend.”

John Ashbourne

Visiting from London

“I actually lived here briefly a few years ago. It is weird coming back when all of the references you get to it are now very negative at home. I wasn’t looking forward to it in the way I maybe would have been had things turned out differently.”

Francis Acosta

Visiting from Mexico

“We are not afraid of coming, but we take extra precaution. You always carry your passport and your visa now because you don’t know if they’re going to ask you for it. Before Trump, we didn’t feel that way.”

Rodolphe Ishac and Arnaud Petre

Visiting from Belgium

Ishac: “When [George W.] Bush arrived, it was like, ‘No way—this guy can’t win. Any person in an age of thinking cannot go for a guy like that.’ When he won, it was like, ‘Really?’ ”

Petre: “I think there is less surprise with Trump.”

Ishac: “If you vote stupid, it doesn’t mean you are stupid. It just means your criteria are not the same as us. Just because you don’t take intelligence as the main criterion doesn’t mean you are crap. Okay, a lot of people would probably think that. It’s not changing the way we see the States—at least not now. I think it changed more with Bush, because we moved from ‘That’s completely impossible’ to ‘Oh, my God—in fact, that is possible.’ ”

Jose Zielinski

Visiting from Venezuela

“I have enjoyed the monuments, and we have had a fantastic time just walking around. We are from a place where there is zero freedoms, no freedom of speech, nothing like that. To visit a place like this, where we know we can speak freely, it’s fantastic.”

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Washingtonian.