THE POPE IN CANADA

The rush to sell imprints on beply touch all people

Ann Finlayson October 1 1984
THE POPE IN CANADA

The rush to sell imprints on beply touch all people

Ann Finlayson October 1 1984

The rush to sell imprints on beply touch all people

Ann Finlayson

Almost a year before the Pope’s Canadian tour, concerns about pictures of the pontiff being used to decorate everything from beer mugs to bikini bottoms led church bishops to form a committee charged with weeding out the tacky and the tasteless from proposed tour souvenirs. Then, after entrepreneurs besieged the committee with a bewildering array of commercial products, its members retained Montreal licensing expert Richard Gareau, president of International Licensing Corp. (ILC), to sort the gold from the dross. The bishops are levying a royalty fee on the sale of appropriate souvenirs bearing the Pope’s image and the official tour imprimatur, with Gareau getting a cut. Although there was little that church officials could do to block the sale of unauthorized papal knick-knacks, they still counted on collecting royalties of about $4 million on licensed sales of $40 million to offset part of the $20-million share of the papal visit’s cost.

But evidence from hucksters across the country indicated that the take fell short of expectations. Lower turnouts than predicted, blamed in some areas on bad weather and fears of crushing crowds, left many papal peddlers short of customers. In Halifax, where organizers had predicted a crowd of 200,000 at the open-air mass and fewer than 100,000 turned up, everything from pennants to soda pop was in oversupply, even croissants. Said Luci Houchin, who peddled croissants at the Halifax mass: “It was disastrous. We had 200 but sold less than a dozen.” On the other hand, there were pockets of success. Fold-up cardboard seats sold briskly at outdoor masses in Toronto and Edmonton.

Trinkets priced at more than a few dollars ran up against stubborn buyer resistance in some places. Said Harold Stupp, whose S.L. Industries in Montreal, for one, made silver bullion and gold-plated commemorative ingots: “I should have listened to the people who bombed with the Tall Ships. They told me to stay away from these kind of deals.” At one point, Stupp found his $18.50 gold-plated ingots buried under a pile of $1.98 keychains in a Montreal cigar store. He said that he “will get out with the shirt still on my back” but that he had not made a profit.

The commercial slump accompanied the Pope across the country. In Toronto, where hucksters appeared to outnumber spectators at spots along the papal processional route, business was slow despite sunny skies and a warm autumn breeze. Said 21-year-old Charles Vilain, who was selling officially sanctioned $2 buttons ar i $10 gold-plated medallions at Queen’s Park: “Business was terrible. There were too few people and too many vendors.” As a result, Allain sold less than 20 per cent of his supply. At the papal mass in suburban Downsview, food companies providing sandwiches, potato chips and cold drinks also suffered a setback in weather that had turned cold and blustery. Declared John Warren, vicepresident of administration for Parnell Foods (1981) Ltd: “It was an unmitigated disaster. All the food companies with concessions lost money.”

r mugs and bikini bottoms

There were also cases in which supply outstripped demand in logistics connected with the tour. In Vancouver organizers chartered 10 buses to transport reporters 100 km to Abbotsford for a papal mass, setting out eight hours ahead of time to avoid anticipated traffic delays. Only two buses were needed, and the trip took only 58 minutes because the anticipated traffic jam did not develop. About 170,000 people attended the mass, many fewer than organizers had predicted. And those who came, for the most part, did not buy. Wayne Battrick and Art Adams, two unemployed construction workers, sold pope scopes (periscopes) for $2 each. They invested $1,500, made 2,000 of the scopes—and managed to sell a total of 10. Balloon hawkers Bud and Steve Carmichael lost about $7,000 on the same day, despite their attempts to create a demand by giving 1,000 of the balloons away. Said Bud

Carmichael: “The average nonCatholic got turned off from attending. Most of the people here were devout Catholics. They were here to see the Pope, not to buy balloons.”

Merchants across the country also found that hoped-for bonanzas from an influx of visitors fizzled. In Halifax few businesses showed any increase in trade while the Pope was in town. Said Radio Shack store manager Charles Hill: “Business was dead, but we did have a run on batteries and we were cleaned out of little FM radios.” A block away, at Thackeray’s bar and restaurant, bartender Kevin Gamble said that trade was slow during the youth rally but that it picked up later that night after the Pope left St. Mary’s Basilica. “People were dry, and we were swamped,” he said. Consumers Distributing, which stocked Montrealer Stupp’s silver ingots across Canada, sold only 500 of them. And Simpson’s, which promoted the ingots in its advertising, received orders for fewer than 1,000.

In Ottawa and the surrounding area many of the 1,300 hotel rooms set aside for the anticipated crowds of out-of-town visitors remained vacant, despite the fact that an accommodation booth was set up at the National Arts Centre to persuade nonresidents to remain in the nation’s capital overnight. Said Michael Church, president of the Ottawa-Carleton Board of ^ Trade: “The visit came nowhere I near expectations in terms of y revenues. Most people came for " the mass and then went home.” Most of the tour vendors and the merchants will have to chalk up their losses to experience. But as the Pope was leaving for home, ILC president Gareau insisted that potential after-sales may make up some of the losses. “After the Pope’s visit to the United States,” he said, “many of the souvenir sellers found that there was a tremendous market.” Several Quebec parishes, he added, have already indicated that they will use leftover items as fund raisers, and many others will likely launch similar campaigns to offset tour losses. Firm sales figures for licensed souvenirs will not begin to emerge until a month after the Pope’s departure. But for private enterprise, and perhaps the church alike, the bottom

line is indeed bleak._

With Diane Luckow in Vancouver, Karen Nicholson in Ottawa, Bruce Wallace in Montreal and Michael Clugston in Halifax.

Diane Luckow

Karen Nicholson

Bruce Wallace

Michael Clugston