WEBSTER – Unable to open successfully in a tent in Oxford, an entrepreneur recently expanded his chain of pro-President Trump merchandise stores by adding a shop on East Main Street last weekend.
The business, called New England for Trump, has 13 stores in three states. It has as its core sale items hats, flags and T-shirts. It also offers glassware, knickknacks, key chains, electronics, blankets, “you name it,” said owner Keith Lambert, 48, of Easton.
The Webster store is managed by Jim Ellis of Connecticut, who said merchandise has flown off the shelves.
“There’s a lot of support for the president,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot of support for the police, because we don’t just sell Trump merchandise in our stores. We back the blue. We also support the military. We also support the Second Amendment, our rights to bear arms, and everything like that.
“But Trump is definitely the main reason why we’re doing this, because he believes in everything that we stand for: for the United States and the police and everything like that.”
As Lambert aimed to expand the business, he said, there was “a big request to have something open southwest of Worcester.”
Originally, the business opened in a tent on Route 12 in Oxford, but the town ordered it shut because it lacked a local temporary peddler’s permit, Ellis said.
“We have what we call a Massachusetts peddlers license through the state to sell merchandise as long as you have permission on private property, which usually is not a problem,” he said, adding he was unaware of the additional requirement in Oxford.
“We probably could have reopened, going through the process of getting all the right permits,” Ellis said. “But there are more people in some cities in upper government that are not Trump supporters, and they probably would have gave us more problems than it would have been worth to try and do it. So fortunately, we were able to find a vacant building that was close enough and still in the same area.”
Lambert said the idea to sell Trump merchandise came to him 12 months ago while he attended a rally for the president in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“Trying to find a hat for a friend, I just noticed a huge need for it,” Lambert said. “People were going crazy wanting this merchandise.”
He began to set up for sales on street corners and opened a handful of holiday stores last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed larger expansion plans he contemplated in April.
Lambert’s 13 locations include a store that opened this week in North Windham, Connecticut. His other Massachusetts locations are Bellingham, Wilmington, Peabody, Easton, Canton, Middleboro, Somerset, and Falmouth.
In Rhode Island, he has stores in Providence, North Providence and Smithfield.
Lambert said he’s opening another store in the Glenn Falls, New York, area Thursday, and he’s considering at least another Massachusetts shop, possibly in Ware.
Asked his requirements for locations, Lambert said, “We usually do some research on the vote, and try to make sure we’re going to be in a red, or at least even, area. Then you probably try to find red-supporter landlords, because obviously that’s helpful. They’re willing to work with you a lot more.”
Lambert’s landlords in Webster are Melitina Sapoznikov and Faina Dulfan of Worcester.
Visibility is another consideration, and the Webster store, in the former Booklovers’ Gourmet space, is in a well-traveled part of town.
Lambert said the Trump campaign has reached out to him to set parameters, wanting to make sure that he disclaimed that he isn’t affiliated with the campaign.
Lambert said his business does send monthly donations to the Trump campaign, based on sales.
Asked if he views this as a long-term venture, or as a viable business beyond the presidential election, Lambert said:
“At this point, all of our leases are through Christmas, so we’ll see how things go. And then, once that’s up, we’ll evaluate, see what’s going on. Once he gets in, it could be a full-time thing, another four years at least.”
Because of polarized views about police around the country, Lambert said, his company’s complement of back-the-blue items has been a big hit. That could be a line of products that sustains the business, he suggested.
Ellis, who recently lived in Florida but returned to the area specifically for his friend Lambert’s venture, had made his living working fairs and amusement parks. But they have been closed across the country because of the pandemic.
Lambert, 48, and the father of a 10-year-old daughter, said he has been in business working at fairs and festivals for about 20 years.
The Trump line of products, he said, is right up his alley.
“Anything that’s a special event or a hot market is what we do, when there’s a need for something, and people aren’t providing the need,” he said.
Lambert said he was aware of heated conversation on social media concerning the Trump store in Webster.
“That happens all the time,” Lambert said. “They end up going viral on Facebook and it just goes crazy with positive and negative (remarks). Ultimately, it all helps because it brings awareness to what we’re doing and, the people that want to support it are excited that they found it.”
Lambert and Ellis singled out a comment by a Webster woman on Facebook who expressed disappointment the store had opened.
“ ‘Can you believe this is in our town?’ ” Lambert said, paraphrasing the since-removed comment. “ ‘What garbage.’ Blah, blah, blah. They went on and on about it. But if you follow the thread, there were 1,000 comments that day, and actually a good amount of them were positive.”
Ellis noted that the comment hinted at Trump supporters being racist. He said he took offense.
“This woman does not understand that Donald Trump has done more for minority people in the last three years than Obama did in eight years,” Ellis said, adding that the store is for those who support the police and military.
“We don’t believe that every cop is a bad cop,” he continued. “But they’re (critics of police are) the first people that will be calling 911 when someone is breaking into their house. They also want to defund the cops.”
Ellis suggested there’s an element of double standard to the anti-Trump sentiment.
“We support our president,” he said. “He’s the president. It’s like, when Obama became president, people didn’t go up in arms and want to lynch the man, like they do Trump.”