A presidential drugstore revisited

Kevin Crowley does not understand why I am calling him. A year ago, when the Hyde Park Walgreens he manages was the self-proclaimed “Barack Obama Headquarters,” he was kind enough to walk me through the store’s expansive selection of Obama-themed products and even let me shoot some shaky video.

But now, more than a year after Obama's inauguration, he doesn’t get it. I keep trying to explain my interest isn't a political thing. He keeps trying to refer me to corporate communications.

ObamaPen.jpg“I had a lot of stuff in the run-up to the election,” he says, too nice to hang up. “It’s like when the Bulls win the championship. You gotta wait until they win another one.”

I ask if the prices of Obama gear have dropped more or less than Obama’s approval rating (61 percent last March, according to Gallup, compared to 50 percent now). “I don’t think his approval rating is down in Hyde Park,” Crowley points out.

So I stop hassling him (I can’t afford to be banned from my local Walgreens) and a few days later stop by surreptitiously to do my own inventory. Ah, how the mighty have fallen. The post-election Obama extravaganza at the store’s entrance has shrunk to an end-of-aisle display between the shopping bags and the strapping tape. The clothing selection is now just a messy, multicolored pile of sweatshirts (marked down to a bargain-basement $4) and hoodies ($6.25), some with the presidential seal, others that read "Obama 44th President."

There are only a few remaining non-clothing items: stainless-steel portable Obama coffee mugs ($7.99); red, white, and blue Obama banners—“car flags,” reads the tag (two for $10); and a small charcoal drawing of the first family on the White House lawn ($3.99, or three for $10). This saccharine image is mixed in with various others of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and a furious, finger-pointing Malcolm X, all of which are labeled “Obama prints” on the price tag. Perhaps this collection is intended to get at his shape-shifting nature: when you look at Obama, you see what you’re expecting to see.

Just two Obama products rate a location at the front of the store. In the Chicago souvenir section, there’s an Obama shot glass ($1.99), unless you prefer the skyline or Al Capone. Then there’s the one remaining register-worthy impulse buy: the talking Obama pen.

I’ll admit it: I own three of these. A year ago, I bought one at the full price of $7.99. By Christmas, they had been marked down to two for $10, cheap enough so that each of my kids got one in their stockings. Obama no longer shops at the Walgreens, Crowley says. But apparently Santa still does.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

March 25, 2010