The Reporter's Notebook

Couple Struggles to Celebrate America in Terminal C

BOSTON--It seems only fitting that a gift shop whose most popular-selling item is a White House golf team polo shirt would use life-size cardboard cutouts of Bill and Hillary Clinton as part of its interior decor.

Flags, an artificial White House facade and a red-and-blue tiled floor complete the look for Celebrate America!, a political memorabilia specialty shop located in Terminal C of Logan Airport.

The brainchild of Valerie and Lawrence J. Kelleher, Celebrate America! sells everything from birdhouses in the shape of the Jefferson Memorial to one of the centerpieces used at Ronald Reagan's 75th birthday party--a caricature of a rather young-looking Gipper.

Kelleher says he and his wife opened the store four years ago "out of a love for politics and the First Amendment."

"This is one of the few countries where we can do something like this and no one will knock on our door at 3 a.m.," Kelleher says gesturing to a display of bumper stickers that read "Inhale to the Chief" or "Newter Newt."

"We knew there was nothing like it around," adds Kelleher, whose political expertise comes from years spent working on campaigns for the likes of Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill.

A private collector before he opened the store with his wife of two years, Lawrence Kelleher says he knows how difficult it is to come across personal possessions of political figures. One of his most prized items is a letter Harry S. Truman sent to his personal photographer thanking him for taking what was widely considered Truman's favorite personal portrait.

Kelleher, a native of Revere, Mass., bought the signed letter along with a copy of Truman's picture at an auction and is now selling it for $999.

One of Celebrate America!'s most successful gimmicks is a political poll of their customers. The couple is currently asking trinket-buyers if they think Clinton should resign.

According to Lawrence Kelleher, the ballots cast thus far are three-to-one in favor of Clinton not resigning.

"Our next poll might be about whether Clinton should be impeached, but things look too good for him right now," Kelleher says. "God knows he's a survivor!"

In 1996, Celebrate America! asked its customers whether they would be voting for Clinton or Republican candidate Bob Dole.

"When the final results came in, we were only three [percentage] points off the final results," Kelleher says. "And our poll is as unscientific as they get."

Kelleher says the future is uncertain for his store. While he would like to see the store expand into a national chain, few fliers take the time to stop by and Celebrate America!

The few that do enter out of curiosity usually just take a quick look around, before hurrying off to their awaiting flights. Few, it seems, are interested in buying an official Camp David lighter-retail price $49.95-or Christmas cards from the Reagan administration.

A video featuring a collection of Richard M. Nixon's most famous political speeches drones on in the background, while buttons from Herbert Hoover's race for the White House remain untouched inside their glass cases.

"We don't have the people they promised us," Kelleher says, referring to the airport's development team that lured him in mid-December to Logan from the his original location on the second floor of Faneuil Hall.

"They promised us the world with a fence around it, and they just haven't delivered," Kelleher says.

But for now, Kelleher says Celebrate America! will focus on gearing up for the presidential campaign in 2000.

"We'll be speculating who the candidates and winners will be and trying to get the right memorabilia," Kelleher says. "It's always a challenge getting the right pieces."