Sunday, October 12, 2003

Take home a piece of the big event

Captain Tall Stacks, a cute little feller, bobbles up as the festival's big seller

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The closer Tall Stacks gets, the more they're selling at the official store on Tower Place's ground level.

Selling everything - from clothes to 'fridge magnets to a fiendish 550-piece jigsaw puzzle.

But the big seller here, the really big seller, well that's a little bobble-headed fellow named Captain Tall Stacks.

The salty old soul in seafaring blues and fluffed-up handlebar moustache is "huge. Probably our biggest seller," says Justin Jablonski, the Tall Stacks staffer who minds the store most weekdays. The collectible captain is $19.99.

But he's not the only big seller. The $12.99 commemorative plate (white with a Tall Stacks scene in muted colors) is a big deal with collectors and hostesses. "What's happening," Jablonski says, "is people having Tall Stacks parties are buying them as party favors for guests. I sold 145 of them today to one customer. Another couple bought 84."

They're doing the same with the $7.99 cream-colored bells. At first, Jablonski says, it was all individual buyers, but as the festival gets closer, bulk sales are taking over. "I just sold 84 of them to a couple for a party."

When the store opened in November 2002, T-shirts ($16.99) were the big sellers, Jablonski says, but as the weather cools, the long-sleeved T ($19.95) is gaining fast, as are the fleece pullovers ($46.99), waterproof windbreakers ($79.99), button front windbreakers ($59.99) and basic sweatshirts ($29.99 and up) in a variety of colors.

All show off the Tall Stacks logo, date and name of the event. Sometimes it's across the chest, sometimes the back or down a sleeve.

Now that the store has been open a while, hard goods are selling at least as fast as the clothes, Jablonski says. "All the hard goods with the logo and date are in demand right now."

Hard goods like the original 1988 Tall Stacks poster? "The last one recently sold for $200. But we have every other year ('92, '95, '99) for $5.99 and they're selling, but this year's ($15.99) sells better."

High-end collectors are going for this year's Tall Stacks print, a signed and numbered $275 print (unframed) of a Frank McElwain painting showing the ships gathering at the public landing. McElwain has been the official Tall Stacks artist since the festival began in '88.

Mid-range collectors have been snatching up the commemorative pocket watch. The $49.99 timepiece has an embossed cover showing a paddle wheeler. The inside has a "ghosted" image of the Tall Stacks logo.

"We started out with a lot of them, but now we only have three left. I'm hoping they reorder," Jablonski says.

Lower-range collectors have a ton of options: Coffee mugs ($12.99 or three for $34.99), playing cards ($3.99), shot glasses ($8.99 and $6.99), 'fridge magnets ($5.49), red or green Christmas ornaments ($5.99), dangly earrings ($6.99), lapel pins ($9.99), brass-toned steamship piggy banks ($24.99), even yo-yos for the kids ($1.99).

All of them, of course, with the Tall Stacks logo.

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer .com