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The Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte Sept. 4-6, 2012. WFAE's comprehensive coverage of the event is found here.

Hustlers Use DNC To Make A Quick Buck

Tanner Latham

With thousands of people uptown for the Democratic National Convention, some street vendors say this week is their best opportunity of the year. In fact, some have traveled across the country to make a quick buck in Charlotte.

If you've been uptown this week, you've seen them. People selling buttons, pins, T-shirts, programs, flags - you name it, all with some kind of logo featuring President Obama, the DNC, Charlotte or even something off the wall.

Kierra Thompson is one of the hustlers.

"I'm just selling buttons right now," Thompson said. "You can buy four, get one free, or you can get one for $5. It's just Obama buttons."

She was pushing a variety of buttons, from "Obama 2012" to "Once you vote black, you never go back." Thompson said with a laugh that button is one of the most popular ones.

She lives in Charlotte and has a two-month old at home. Her mom and dad are babysitting this week so she can make a quick buck - or a lot of bucks. She said she made $40 her first 10 minutes, and she's expecting to bring in "about $4,000 this week."

"'ll be here day and night," Thompson said. "Just in 10 minutes, making $40 - I mean, do the math."

That kind of opportunity drew people from out of town, too. Daniel Robertson is from High Point. He and a crew of about 15 guys have been selling programs day and night in uptown.

"We have the official program here, which tells about the events that are happening this week, and it also gives you a little information about Obama, his family," Robertson said. He didn't say exactly what makes the programs official.

Robertson said a friend of his made them. They cost $5, and he's hoping to make about $1,000 this week.

Another hustler is Leslie Ware. She lives in Charlotte and set up a booth at CarolinaFest to sell shirts, lanyards and bags. But the thing she said was selling like hot cakes was a white T-shirt with the Charlotte skyline on top of the words "Run DNC." Her nephew and niece came up with the idea.

"They thought Run DNC would be a great play on the rap group, Run DMC," Ware said. "And it's the perfect number of letters, three on the top and three on the bottom, and then the Charlotte skyline just to represent for Charlotte."

When I saw her in the morning, the shirts were in stacks more than a foot tall. And then when I swung by in the afternoon, a few of those stacks were almost gone. Ware said they were a hit.

"I can't tell you how many people have come by and taken pictures, and we've had a couple people who have tweeted it and then got feedback from folks they got tweets from," Ware said. 

Ware said she may use the money she makes off the shirts as capital for her budding real estate business. But she’s having so much fun selling them, she said she may ditch real estate and stick with this kind of retail.

In front of the Charlotte Convention Center, Claudia Blakemore set up her own little shop. She drove all the way here from Houston.

"I have caps, and I have buttons," Blakemore said. "I also have some commemorative things from the inauguration, coins, pens, tote bags and flags."

But Blakemore isn’t really here to make money.

"Just trying to recoup my expenses for coming to the convention," she said with a big laugh. "I'm kind of on vacation. If I can do that, I'm fine."

She’s just selling souvenirs to fund her trip. She said in 2008, she drove all over the place doing this - debates, the Democratic convention and the inauguration.

Every time, she said her sales at least covered the cost of her trips. She’s never come up short. She said she stumbled into funding vacations this way.

"First I was a volunteer, then I tried to go as a delegate, and then people wanted T-shirts, so I said, I'll get a few shirts," Blakemore said. "And then it just kind of mushroomed from there. Everybody wanted shirts, so I said, hey, wait a minute, this looks good. So I got 500 shirts and I sold em all. So it just kept going like that."

She said most of the stuff she brought to Charlotte is left over from back then, and she sees the DNC as her last big chance to sell her way to a free trip.