'Souvenir ghouls' hustle Trade Center memorabilia
By COLIN FREEZE, The Globe and Mail
Friday, September 14, 2001
NEW YORK -- Grief and generosity are the prevailing attitudes of New Yorkers these days, but there are greedy exceptions.
As the northern half of Manhattan sprang alive with commerce yesterday, a lot of the city's irrepressible entrepreneurs returned to do what many New Yorkers do best: make a quick buck.
In Times Square, some people profited handsomely from Tuesday's terror attacks.
The World Trade Center is absent from the skyline, but its twin towers could easily be found on all kinds of paraphernalia that sold well.
Even though on-line auctioneer eBay banned World Trade Center merchandise and books after several vendors -- "souvenir ghouls" in the words of The New York Post -- tried to hawk postcards and books for exorbitant prices, no one really much cared when peddlers in Times Square did the same thing.
One streetside table was set up with glass-framed photos of the two fallen towers.
The larger pictures, no bigger than a sheet of paper, sold for $20 (U.S.).
The smaller one was a bargain at $10.
The two busy vendors didn't answer questions, saying first that they didn't speak English and then that they were just following their boss's orders. An adjacent vendor, with less saleable images, grumbled that he couldn't compete with World Trade Center merchandise, so he folded up his table and went home.
One buyer said pictures of the twin towers make for a lovely commemorative gift.
"My friend's birthday was yesterday and we've lost the building and I think it's symbolic," said Ada Athanassiou, a fashion designer who picked up another picture to give to her daughter.
"It is strange," she said, that the pictures she picked up made someone a profit even as others farther downtown risked their lives to clean up debris.
"However, this is so important for me to have a picture," she added, after forking over $40. Besides, "people will make money off of everything."
There were more souvenirs to be had, though vendors insisted they were clearing out only existing supplies, and were not jacking up the prices.
One shop sold a $35 glass dome -- the kind that makes snow fall when you shake it -- in which a plane flew over the two towers. Another store told a shopper to come back at 5 p.m. for more World Trade Center domes, T-shirts and postcards.
Beside an upscale topless bar, where a man told passersby that drinks could be had for only $9 each, another store hawked an ever diminishing supply of American flags for prices ranging between $4.99 and $12.99.
Asked if he was raising prices because of the demand, Ibrahim Doumbia said that "other shops do that, but we don't do that."
The 26-year-old salesman added that if any extra money was made, it would be because of the volume of sales only.
Although the mayor of New York has many pressing concerns, he has taken time to speak up about gougers who may be inflating prices for gas, food and water.
"We have had a few situations like that and we anticipate that, unfortunately, we may have more," Rudolph Giuliani told reporters on Tuesday.
The city's consumers affairs department has been empowered to fine vendors $500 an item if they're caught inflating prices on basic goods.
Officials weren't available yesterday to comment on just who, if anyone, has been fined.