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Charlotte Observer - Vendors: DNC Too Quiet On Sales

Eight weeks before the start of the Democratic National Convention, some vendors who hope to sell merchandise are frustrated they have no information. Convention organizers asked businesses last fall to sign up with an online directory to hear about opportunities. Some vendors said they hoped they'd hear by now about chances to sell souvenirs during the September event. Sellers say they need time to prepare enough merchandise. But so far, they've heard nothing. "I've never gotten a direct email regarding the straight-up vendor side of the DNC," said Salisbury-native Shequeta Smith, with Off My Chest Tees based in Los Angeles. "They haven't told us anything." In response to questions from the Observer, the host committee said Thursday it will announce details next week on vendor opportunities at CarolinaFest 2012, the celebration planned along Tryon Street on Labor Day. Souvenir vendors and food trucks would pay a fee to apply, and would be required to hold a Mecklenburg County business license, according to the host committee. The one-day opportunity in Charlotte for sellers of unofficial merchandise is different from such sales in Tampa, site of the Republican National Convention at the end of August. That city is now receiving permit applications for sellers to work Monday through Thursday of convention week on city streets, said Mauricio Rodriguez, assistant city attorney for Tampa. Vendors at the RNC will know their locations once the security perimeter is announced, Rodriguez said. The fee for temporary vendors along streets closest to the Tampa Bay Times Forum convention site is $27. In Charlotte, convention organizers have encouraged local businesses to register in the online vendor directory to hear about DNC-related business. Organizers have said the convention could have an estimated $150 million economic impact. Vendors say they've received few details But local and out-of-town businesses that registered in the directory said this week they're disappointed in the lack of information so far. Vendors of T-shirts, buttons, bags and specialty-food items say they need time to produce enough product to sell or mail their merchandise to Charlotte. "I would need a heads-up now," said Debbie Mangeney of Charlotte, who is hoping for chances to promote her handmade chocolates business, Debbie's Delights. She created a line of patriotic-themed goodies around the DNC, including red-, white- and blue-colored crunch treats. "I would sell out. My stuff is very yummy," Mangeney said. "I thought there would be a ton of opportunity. They're coming to our city. They should be using our stuff." The city of Charlotte isn't designating any public space for vendors, said Emily Cantrell, DNC permit official for the city. And only sellers of official merchandise, bearing the licensed convention logos, will be permitted to sell inside venues, according to the host committee. Those venues include Time Warner Cable Arena, where delegates will gather on Sept. 4 and 5, and Bank of America Stadium, where President Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech on Sept. 6. In Denver, vendors sold for days Vendors aren't always a guaranteed presence at political conventions. But in Denver in 2008, site of the last DNC, several hundred vendors sold in streets and at a downtown pedestrian mall for several days. The city issued more than 700 street-vendor licenses during the month of the convention, according to a Denver host committee impact report. In Charlotte, vendors could still contract with private property owners to sell their merchandise. A private, for-profit business is leasing the future baseball stadium land from the Charlotte Knights for "The American Presidential Experience," an exhibit of presidential memorabilia. Exhibit owner Jim Warlick said the $500,000-plus venture, to be located in tents along Mint Street, includes space for up to 75 vendors who would pay $5,000 for nine days. Vendors are expected to include North Carolina-based businesses and sellers of political memorabilia, Warlick said. He's also expecting other organizations, including health care and public service groups. Other businesses are holding out for opportunities sponsored by the host committee. Be Water, a clothing business with ties to Raleigh, sold its "Barack Nation" shirts at the state Democratic Party convention in June. Co-owner Kenneth Kingsberry said the business hopes to sell at the DNC - and hopes for word soon about logistics. "We're worried about ... what we need to bring, where we're going to set up," Kingsberry said.