Frank Maloney's buttons are selling very well during the DNC.

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Less than three days into the Democratic National Convention, Frank Maloney’s traveling merchandise troupe had hawked some 25,000 buttons. That’s the beauty of a nonpartisan hustle. They’ve got I’m With Her buttons. I Love Bernie buttons. Trump buttons. Dump Trump buttons. Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Power to the People.

There’s so much for sale on the streets of Philadelphia this week, but what’s behind these drop-in sales operations, and which one is getting the most business? On a popular street vendor strip around 10th and Market, business was slow all Wednesday afternoon. One of the regular vendors said he didn’t even bother to stock up on DNC-related merch because they knew the tourists would be heading the other direction.

Just a few blocks west, visitors filtered out of the Marriott Hotel and stopped by Maloney’s bright-orange pinboard. Cora Schroeter, a delegate from upstate New York, picked up some “Hil Yes! 2016” buttons for her whole family back home. That’s been one of Maloney’s most popular wares. Customers line up for the three for $10 deal.

“The button business is good,” Maloney laughs. Our interview gets interrupted six times so that he can make another sale.  

One of Maloney’s eight co-salesmen shipped off to a Trump rally in Scranton early Wednesday morning. The merch troupe is coming off the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week. Of note: Maloney, who is from Ohio, sold just as many Blue Lives Matter buttons at the RNC as he did Black Lives Matter buttons. It’s too early to tell if the DNC street sales is going to surpass prosperous RNC week, but Maloney says things are looking good. (It’s his first time in Philly, by the way, and he loves it.)

It’s also been a good few days for the grassroots Brooklyn-based T-shirt business called NoTrump16, which, as you can imagine, is not a fan of the business magnate-turned-reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential nominee. All of their shirts feature a stencilled Trump crossed out with a prohibition sign. Oddly enough, NoTrump16’s founder Benjamin Kohnstamm says he got less flack hawking shirts at the RNC than he does at their regular spot in Manhattan.

dnc street vendors no trump
Credit: Max Marin

“It was quite shocking, actually, because we get more negative reception on a daily basis in New York just based on the volume of people of New York, and the bruskness of New Yorkers,” Kohnstamm said closer to the Convention Center. “In Cleveland, the worst we got was ‘get that out of my face,’ or ‘y’all some kind of scumbags.’”

The DNC crowd has obviously been more receptive of the anti-Trump messaging. But that hasn’t exactly been the vibe for the Black Men For Bernie campaign, which has been “Bernie or Bust” since the beginning. Nadia Crawford from the campaign was slinging T-shirts outside the municipal services building on Wednesday afternoon. She says that people approached their sales table all day to ask if they’ll be switching their allegiance to Clinton.

Not all vendors came to rake in profits, though.

Credit: Max Marin

Like Black Men for Bernie, some vendors are more or less selling merch to cover their DNC travel expenses. That was also the case for a gentleman who went by the name of Powerful. He and a half a dozen family and friends have been selling T-shirts, hats and tote bags — the “America Is Already Great” variety — just to finance their trip to Philly from Washington D.C.

“I’m an entrepreneur, man. We have a family business called Up & Up Fashions,” Powerful said, holding up his guest pass to the Wells Fargo Center. “But I was interested in the convention itself. I’ve never been a part of any type of political process, so instead of talking about, I came to learn about it firsthand.”

There are even vendors looking to raise money for the Democratic nominee herself. You might have seen the folks from the First Lady Bill political action committee. You’ll know them by the guy in a red dress with the Bill Clinton caricature mask. The goal is to put “Bill in a dress to put Hillary in the oval office,” said Luke Montgomery, a representative from the PAC.

Surprise: The pro-Clinton PAC did not bring its T-shirts and crossdressing models to Cleveland last week.

“We would’ve been shot had we been at the RNC,” Montgomery said. “Until the Republicans pass an assault weapons ban we’re not going anywhere near them.”

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...