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Selling Merchandise Outside Of RNC, Politics Come Second

"Hillary for Prison" merchandise is a top-seller at the dozens of vendor stands outside of the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland.

A "Donald Trump for President" T-shirt will cost you $20, outside of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

A "Hillary for Prison" button — a top-seller among the throngs of conservative convention-goes — will cost you $10.

Trump Flakes are a bit pricey at $40, but a cartoon-Trump on the off-brand cereal box assures you, "They're Great Again."

Tens of thousands of people are visiting Cleveland for the GOP convention and dozens of vendors are trying to take advantage — hawking everything from T-shirts to joke-telling toy elephants. It's created a bustling market of Trump-related goods outside Quicken Loans Arena, where there are three broad, unofficial types of vendors, politically speaking: true-believers, pretenders and anti-Trumpers.

The True Believers

Larry Rich is in largest of those groups: true Donald Trump believers, who think that Trump will "Make America Great Again!" as the now-ubiquitous red hats ($15) proclaim.

"I believe it," Rich says. "I want the man in the White House."

This is Rich's sixteenth stop on the campaign trail. He went to a Trump rally in Sarasota, Fla., last November and met a few of the vendors. He told them about his background in marketing and vending and they offered him a job. Now he's a part of a group follows Trump around the country, buying merchandise from the campaign and selling it for commissions. On a good day, Rich says he can make $200.

Vendor Larry Rich agrees with the message of the merchandise he sells in Cleveland. "I'm with Trump all the way," he says.
Nathan Rott / NPR
Vendor Larry Rich agrees with the message of the merchandise he sells in Cleveland. "I'm with Trump all the way," he says.

Rich is a Trump supporter for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that he thinks Trump is the best candidate to help struggling Americans get back on their feet.

"I tell everyone he's starting jobs," Rich says, folding shirts. "He started with me."

The Pretenders

The second group of vendors in Cleveland operate in quasi-secrecy. They're selling the same pro-Trump, anti-Hillary merchandise as their peers, but they don't necessarily agree with the candidate on their wares.

Al Jones is selling T-shirts and hats just outside of the convention area's main gate and he's making a lot of sales to Republican delegates and visitors.

Between T-shirt sales, he lowers his voice and says he's not excited about either of the presumptive candidates.

"Honestly, I'm a Bernie Sanders supporter," he says. "All day long, man."

A customer walks by and Jones goes back to business-mode. He doesn't agree with the message on the t-shirt he's selling, but he doesn't feel bad about it.

"Here's the deal: When you go to Wal-Mart or you go to Target, they don't ask you your political beliefs. They just take your money," he says. "I'm doing the same thing. I'm just taking their money. That's it."

The Anti-Trumpers

It's a tough market for the smallest group of vendors in Cleveland: the anti-Trumpers. Thousands of protesters were expected to take part in anti-Trump parades and rallies during the convention, but so far, the crowds have been "underwhelming," says Ben Thompson.

Thompson and his "NoTrump16" group traveled from New York to sell merchandise emblazoned with a pursed-lip Trump face in a red circle, with a line through it — the universal symbol for "no," he says.

"Our goal is to make sure that Donald Trump does not get to the White House," Thompson says.

Their hope is that by selling anti-Trump T-shirts, they can help accomplish that, he says. "And if we happen to generate a little bit of cash in the process that would be nice."

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