SO IF YOU WANTED to buy a Philly souvenir, and you had to choose between a mini-replica of Independence Hall or a sequined, befeathered Mummers bobble-head doll, which one would you choose?
I'd go with the bobble-head.
Or maybe the Mummers Clown finger puppet. Or the T-shirt showing a smiling, ugly Mummer in ladies garb, that reads "I'm With the Wenches."
Or one showing a Fancy Brigader above the caption, "Secure Enough To Wear Sequins."
As of this week, some of these new items - known as "Mummerabilia" - are for sale online. By early 2010, all of them, plus CDs, DVDs and more, will be sold in airports, hotels and souvenir shops.
If Fred Lavner has his way, Mummerabilia will do two things.
Give some edgy competition to Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin and the Liberty Bell as the Philly-themed souvenir of choice.
And save the annual Mummers from extinction.
Lavner is president of NB2, a local apparel-design company and online merchandiser. This time last year, he was appalled that the country's oldest parade was about to get canned, when city funding dried up.
A few financial knights in shining armor came to the rescue with support, and the 2009 strut up Broad Street proceeded pretty much as usual.
All good, says Lavner, "but we can't rely on someone to rescue the parade every year. It doesn't make sense."
Neither does begging the city for help, the way the Mummers have been doing all year long.
Especially when the Mummers own an untapped gold mine of support: the Mummers brand.
Lavner believes that Mummers music is as representative of Philly as jazz is of New Orleans and blues is of Memphis. And that the Mummers, as an institution, are as identified with Philly as the Grand Old Opry is with Nashville.
While those cities have capitalized on their musical brands by selling merchandise to support it, the Mummers have languished.
Sure, some Mummers clubs produce and sell their own merchandise. But the Mummers, as an entity, have never used the brand to make a collective buck.
So last year, when Save the Mummers was formed to address the funding needs of the annual parade, Lavner approached the group about partnering on a project to license, create and sell "Mummerabilia" - generic Mummers-themed apparel and paraphernalia.
Sales of Mummerabilia would help support Save the Mummers by providing an independent revenue source for the parade. And the year-round presence of Mummerabilia in tourist shops would push awareness of the Mummers beyond New Year's Day - and beyond the locals.
Knowledge breeds loyalty. Loyalty breeds support.
What's not to love?
"Betsy, Ben and the Bell are wonderful, historical Philadelphia icons," says Lavner, who wasn't ready this week to speculate on sales projections. "The Mummers are just as 'Philly,' but fun. Why not capitalize on that?"
Frustratingly, the Mummerabilia online store went live only this week - too late for holiday shoppers who might've loved to present a saxaphone T-shirt, emblazoned with the words "Mummers Music Makes Me Horny," to Mummers lovers in their lives.
So be patient: the continued roll-out of this smart project might be glitchy. Nonetheless, "We're excited" about the launch, says George Badey III, chairman of Save the Mummers and a life-long strutter. "The merchandise is clever, and it promotes in a new way one of the oldest and best Philly traditions."
Wanna buy something? Go to www.savethemummers.com.
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