Smithsonian shop sells U.S.-made gifts

By:  Nicole Gaudiano, Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Visitors to the Smithsonian now have one gift shop where they can indulge their buy-American desires with complete confidence.

The Price of Freedom gift shop at the National Museum of American History began selling only American-made gifts Wednesday. The change came after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., threatened to introduce legislation requiring taxpayer-financed museums to sell more merchandise made in this country.

"I think we're the first major museum gift shop to use exclusively made-in-America products," said Brent Glass, the museum director.

Sanders said that the move is a good start, but that he wants to see a greater effort to sell American-made merchandise in all Smithsonian gift stores.

"It seems to me that a museum owned by the American people, designed to express our history and our greatness, should be, to as great a degree as possible, selling products made by American workers," said Sanders, who visited the gift shop Wednesday.

Sanders first complained about the history museum's foreign-made souvenirs after visiting one of the gift shops to buy Christmas presents for his grandchildren. What he found: busts of American presidents made in China.
On Wednesday, Sanders bought an American-made T-shirt from the history museum's main gift shop, which still sells a mix of merchandise made here and overseas. He also bought a made-in-China Rosie the Riveter "We can do it" hand towel because he had to break the packaging to see the label.

About a third of the Smithsonian's business comes from products made in this country, according to Becky Haberacker, a Smithsonian spokeswoman. Of the 90 new vendors the museums have added since March, 19 make their merchandise in the United States. The June issue of Smithsonian magazine advertises for vendors who provide American-made products.

The Price of Freedom store, which focuses on military-themed merchandise, is one of three gift shops in the National Museum of American History. To convert the store, museum officials removed some popular items - including teddy bears in camouflage jackets - changed posters and books, and removed titles printed overseas.

The Smithsonian wants to see how well merchandise sells at the Price of Freedom store before committing to extending the American-made policy to other stores, Haberacker said.
The price of American-made is often more expensive, she said. Coffee mugs made overseas average $10 to $12 apiece; American-made ones retail for $20.

Sanders said American-made merchandise is sometimes more expensive but said U.S. tourists will buy it as a way to boost jobs here.

Contributing: Charlie Scudder, Gannett Washington Bureau