When President Donald Trump comes to town, so does everyone else.
Supporters and protesters alike show up in large numbers at rallies like the one held in Lexington on November 4. But so does another group, one whose presence is more reliable than supporters or protesters – and that group is vendors.
At every Trump rally, vendors show up to sell, socialize and support Trump. They come from all over the country, often setting up and leaving town on the same day. For some, it’s a job. For others, a livelihood. Their reasons for becoming vendors vary, as do their products, but together they represent a unique way of life, one often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of big political rallies.
Roy Crouch’s first day on the job was the Trump rally in Lexington. He answered an ad on Craigslist asking for help selling.
“I don’t know anybody else,” said Crouch. “I just met up with the lady around the corner, she loaded the table up and put me over here.”
Crouch said he did ask if the people who hired him had a business license, and they do.
“Good business, I’ve actually done pretty well, a lot of people are wearing Trump gear,” said Crouch of his experience so far. He would finish his shift selling before the rally was over.
A Lexington resident, Crouch is a Trump supporter and said the rally held in Rupp Arena was his first.
“I’ll watch the news about it later, but I’m not actually going to go inside,” said Crouch.
“Get them as low as I can and sell as high as I can”
Luis Lopez from Texas has been working the rally circuit for two years. He only goes to Trump rallies, about 50, he said, and is also a Trump supporter. For Lopez, vendoring is a full-time gig.
“I’m married to this thing, no divorce here, right man?” said Lopez to a man selling with him.
He gets his wares from all over - “D.C., China, I know that. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter.” Most important is getting his stuff for as for as low as possible and then selling as high as possible.
Lopez originally started selling Obama gear.
“I didn’t know that politics was good. After that I stuck with it. Trump’s way better than Obama, I’ll tell you that,” said Lopez.
When traveling from rally to rally, Lopez said he will sometimes see the same vendors again and again.
“Later on when he has more rallies, three or four in one day, you won’t see everybody,” Lopez said. “When it’s slow like this, everybody’s in the same spot.”
“Everyone takes pictures, everyone loves it"
Many of the vendors sell the same products – mostly hats, shirts, buttons and flags. Mike Selvi and his three business partners, who declined to give their names, hope that having a novel product will set them apart.
That novel item is “Trumpios” – boxes modeled after Cheerios, but featuring the president. The product is not FDA-approved and is not fit for consumption, which is written on the box.
Selvi and his business partners said everyone loves Trumpios because they get a good laugh out of it, a statement verified by the laughter of a man walking by. Selvi also said that having a unique product helps them stand apart from other vendors.
“I feel like that gives us the advantage,” he said, and his business partners agreed, saying that Trumpios could one day become an antique and appreciate in value.
The group of four, who are from Chicago, created Trumpios as a way to fund their start-up company, Delta Armory. Selvi described the website as e-commerce for guns, and 70% of the proceeds from their vendor work go to the business.
“We wanted to fund our start-up company and we wanted also to fund the Trump campaign and the NRA and Rebuild the Wall,” said Selvi.
The 30% of profit that does not go to Delta Armory is donated to those three groups, making Trumpios a more explicitly political vendor stand than most. Selvi and his partners said they are “100%” Trump supporters, and that for them, Trumpios are both politics and business.
“We are a start-up company, we are trying to get revenue, but we support Donald Trump,” said one of Selvi’s partners.
Whether or not the group continues to travel to rallies – they’ve been to two so far - is dependent on how quickly they sell out of product. Only 2,020 boxes of Trumpios were made, a number chosen to match up with Trump’s re-election campaign. By the Lexington rally, only a few hundred boxes had been sold. One box costs $30 at a rally and $50 online.
One of Selvi’s partners said that some YouTube channels like Kaitlyn Bennett and Slightly Offensive will be doing marketing for them. The group does not plan to do a second run if all 2,020 boxes sell.
“It took me off the streets”
Unlike many of the other vendors, Eric Taylor said he does not talk to the other sellers. A Trump supporter like many others, Taylor started working as a vendor four years ago on the side of Republicans.
“It took me off the streets,” said Taylor of his beginnings as a vendor. He now works full-time as a solitary vendor.
On the morning of the Lexington rally, Taylor set up around 10 a.m.
“We all work for somebody we never meet, he just sends us out,” said Taylor. He said the business has its ups and downs.
“In Tupelo, Mississippi, they had a football game that day and they didn’t care nothing about the president. Only a few hundred people showed up, but I been to events with 20,000 people,” said Taylor.
Taylor lives in St. Louis and only travels around the Midwest region to sell. He estimates he’s been to 50 Trump rallies, but always sells outside. His best-selling items are MAGA hoodies.
“I’m here to help America”
“Everybody likes our hats,” said Biskit as he worked the parking lot outside of the Trump rally in Lexington. “There’s a demand for it.”
Biskit, whose full name is Bart Godinez, owns the Down N Dirty Hat Company, which is well-known for selling cowboy hats at country music festivals all across the country.
Biskit also sells at Trump rallies, saying that his hats are equally popular at both country music festivals and rallies.
“We’ll sell out of this” he predicted of his stock for the night in Lexington. He said he sells a lot of hats after rallies because people leave them pumped up.
A Republican, Biskit has been following the rally tour for a while - so long that he says he can’t remember when he started.
Biskit started the Down N Dirty Hat Company about 20 years ago. He sees the business as combining politics with business.
“I find ways with the support of the American people to help other American people,” said Biskit.
One of those ways is through charity.
Two years ago, Biskit was the exclusive hat vendor at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas when the festival was attacked in the largest mass shooting in America, leaving 58 people dead.
Since then, proceeds from Down N Dirty hats have gone to help those affected by shooting.
The special edition #VegasStrong hat sent a check to a victim with every 25 hats sold.