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Papal Tour Is a Blessing for Merchandisers

July 24, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

The "Popies" are coming, and have they got the goods.

The Popies, as they call themselves, are a new breed of entrepreneur who've already geared up with a full array of paraphernalia for Pope John Paul II's tour of nine U.S. cities in September.

In San Antonio, cardboard miter masks--18 inches from peaked ornamental headdress to eye cutouts--are being marketed from "the Holey See" by a company called Papalphernalia.

In Los Angeles, there are keepsake cards that feature a full-color portrait of the Pope in his red papal robe and play "Ave Maria," plus T-shirts with the Pope's face and signature, wristwatches, comic books, pins and headbands with halos.

Thirty-inch-high lawn sprinklers of His Holiness, designed so water spurts from his outstretched hands, are being offered by Robert Lebow and Peter Gahan of the Fun Co. in Detroit. Their slogan is "Let Us Spray."

In Phoenix, T-shirts and golf shirts for the papal visit are emblazoned "Raising Hell Tour, Sept. 14, Sun Devil Stadium," and feature a picture of the Pope with a guitar.

A Chicago company called Companion Industries will sell Pope Scopes--periscopes similar to the ones often used by the gallery at golf tournaments--in Miami, San Francisco and Phoenix.

And in Carmel, posters depicting both the Pope and Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood read, "Thou Hast Made My Day." They are the brainchild of Paul Laub, owner of the Clintville souvenir shop, which also sells Pope/Eastwood T-shirts and buttons celebrating John Paul II's "Carmel Visitation."

"I have about three people a day coming in here trying to sell me something for the Pope's visit," said Mike Cotter of Cotter's Church Supplies, the largest religious gift store in Los Angeles. "They've got everything you can think of--wristwatches, brooches, plates. Some come in to buy pictures of him to make into buttons. We sort of don't go in for that kind of stuff. It's a little cheesy."

Although officials of the Roman Catholic archdioceses in each of the cities that the Pope will visit are attempting to downplay the numerous commercial products being manufactured for the papal tour, they have not been notably successful in stemming the tide.

"There's a whole network of people now," said Lebow, who markets the Pope sprinkler ($55) from his Huntington Woods, Mich.,studio. "Now we're all Popies."

A Pope Statue

"About the only thing we haven't had is a Pope statue with a clock in its belly, and we'll probably see that before it's over," said Carl Eifert of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington. "Everybody out there is trying to come up with something."

Eifert was quick to point out that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' ad hoc committee on the papal visit decided there would be no official church sanctioning or licensing of any papal products for the papal visit. "Other countries tried it, when he visited, and it wasn't too successful," he said, explaining that "from all the tales we've heard," the sanctioned products didn't sell well.

Sales of papal souvenirs were reported sluggish, for example, in Australia during the Pope's visit there in November, 1986, even though the Australian Catholic Church licensed 120 different items as part of a marketing program to help defray costs of the tour.

In the United States, if early sales of a few products are any indication, there may be no such demand problem.

As word has spread of the lawn sprinkler, Lebow said he and his partner can't make them fast enough. "We have them cut out of plywood and then paint them ourselves," he explained. "We've sold about 200 already and are now making a series of 'personality sprinklers.' " On the market already are Jim and Tammy Bakker and Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

"We've only had four negative calls out of thousands," Lebow said. "I don't think anyone can say we're doing something irreverent. . . . From what we understand, the Pope has a wonderful sense of humor and I think he'd like these. I wouldn't want to be making ashtrays and seeing people putting butts out in the Pope's face. I think that's really shoddy."

Karen Reid of San Antonio's Papalphernalia said she and her colleagues came up with the idea for the Pope miter mask after "we found out that the Pope used to be an actor and thought the mask would be appropriate. It's done in the style of Italian theater masks. We've had a lot of clergy order them."

Papalphernalia sells the masks wholesale at $21.60 a dozen and suggests retailers price them from $3 to $5.

This is the first entrepreneurial venture for Reid and her two partners, but they plan to rename their company the Underground Chamber of Commerce and stay in business after the papal visit, marketing a line of greeting cards and other masks depicting "who is famous this week."

A Musical Card

Dennis Ortiz, a Los Angeles bank officer, also formed a company, ORLU Inc., to market his musical card which, when opened, plays "Ave Maria."

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