Ask Ellie Stephenson what the Donald Trump hats mean to her and she will tell you: $20.
Ask her how she voted in the last presidential election and she will tell you: “It’s not anybody’s business.”
On Sept. 18, Stephenson set up a tent in the front yard of her home at 2623 Hillegas Road in Fort Wayne. Trucks, cars, pickups and motorcycles speed past her home. Drivers honk their horns and cyclists give a thumbs-up sign. Someone yells “Go Trump.” Some folks are less supportive of the president, and Stephenson says those folks also find words to convey their sentiments. She won’t repeat those words. “I’ve had only two people get really nasty, and I just ignore them,” she said.
Nor is she too fond of the Trump banners that choose a common synonym for hogwash.
Stephenson is just making a living. By late on the second day of her latest commercial venture, she had sold two hats. No signs, no bumper stickers.
More merchandise is on its way, she said, via her employer, Tom Tracy.
Some of that merchandise might elicit a different response from those same passers-by. Stephenson expects to add Bernie Sanders items to the inventory.
“This is all I’m doing, is selling merchandise,” she said.
In past summers, Stephenson sold produce at that same address. She bought it from Amish growers, she said. But this weather-challenged season was difficult. “How do you pay $3.50 a pound for tomatoes and sell it for a profit?” she asked. “How much would you have to charge?”
She has sold Super Bowl merchandise too. “People would ask me ‘Is this your favorite team?’ And I would say ‘It is today,’” she said.
Tracy, her employer, confirmed that the Hillegas Road site is something of a pilot site for other such tents. He also said 2019 is a good time to stock up on merchandise for 2020, and he is stocking up and selling simultaneously.
Like Stephenson, Tracy is not personally invested in the Trump campaign or the Sanders campaign.
He said Sanders merchandise, so far, has been hard to buy. “Bernie, all I’ve been able to find so far has been some flags — a black one and a white one,” he said. “If they sell well we’ll get some more.”
He has been traveling and selling merchandise a good part of his life, selling T-shirts at Daytona Bike Week, selling whatever. “I live the normal lifestyle for sure. I’ve been doing this for 35 years,” he said. “The political stuff I’ve never really done. Many years ago we would sell buttons in Chicago and some other places but I guess the Trump stuff is selling really well, mainly in the rural areas.”
When he’s not selling T-shirts or political banners, he might be selling fireworks. He said he has outlets in Fort Wayne and New Haven, from Michigan to Louisiana and Mississippi, where fireworks are popular at New Year’s.
As to the choice between Trump and Sanders? “I’m a Libertarian,” he said. “I don’t care for any of them, but if I can make money, all the better. I truly believe that the politicians and federal government are out of control with way too many lobbyists, and they don’t (care) about us because they’re running up deficits that my grandchildren will never be able to pay for.”
If Stephenson has her eye on one of the hats in the current inventory, it’s a fashion not a political statement.
That hat speaks to her because of its color. “I like the darker hat. I was a military kid,” she said.