Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Frank on Buttons


"I was born in Baltimore and moved to Washington when I was five years old with my family. My parents had two grocery stores, real Mom-and-Pop stores, on the 1700 block of 10th Street NW and one on 5th and N St. As soon as I could count change, I was working at the counter. We didn't make much money, but everybody ate good. Back then, we had a book that people used to buy things. You bought things on credit and settled up at the end of the month. You don't see stuff like that anymore. People aren't as trusting as they used to be.

"I stayed in D.C. until I joined the National Guard and then went off to fight in Korea. I think that everyone should provide a year of some kind of service after high school. So many kids end up lost and don't know what to do. Public service is a good direction and an important way to help your country.

"When I got out of the Army, I came back to the area and got married at 25. My first job was selling insurance. Back then, I used to cold canvas. I went to a building and started at the top floor and talked my way down through every office trying to sell stuff. At the time, I could even go into the government buildings and walk around, too. I did get asked to leave the CIA because it was a secure building, but otherwise I could go most everywhere else.

"When I got fired from New York Life, I started selling buttons as souvenirs. Turns out I liked it a lot better. It started when my kids were in school and I went down to the government printing office to pick them up a copy of Kennedy's inaugural address for $o.50. I love history and thought it would be a nice present. When I came home, I told my wife, 'These look nice. I'll bet you can sell them.' She thought I was crazy. The first two people I showed them to wanted to buy them, so I bought 50 more and started selling them down at the Capitol. That was about forty years ago.

"I started selling all kinds of souvenirs and then I got really into buttons, especially the campaign buttons. I am the only guy in town who sells this stuff on the street. I got original stuff going back to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. I have Democrat, Republican, Vietnam War, peace and love, and even Socialist buttons. I try to have every button, so people don't have to argue with me about my politics. The average person will spend $10-15 on my buttons. Now, my most expensive button is $75. It is not super expensive, but some of this stuff gets up there. A Lincoln button could go for $1500.

"Buttons have been good to me. In 1984, I produced over one million buttons for the Reagan campaign. They were mostly those ethnic buttons, things like Greek-Americans for Reagan. Because of it, I was invited to both conventions and they called me up for a photo op with Nancy Reagan, so that was my 15 minutes of fame.

"I am 80 and think that I have another year or two out here. As long as my legs hold up, I will stay out here because I enjoy what I do. I meet a lot of great folks and have interesting conversations with people from all around the world. I'd much rather be doing this than staying home and watching television. I like to enjoy every day and tell people that every day that you are alive is like Christmas. If you are standing on your own two feet, you're doing good and should feel blessed." 

1 comment:

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