In 2009, inauguration fever gripped the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., was packed with visitors eager to witness President Obama’s swearing in. An estimated 1.8 million people flooded the National Mall on Inauguration Day. Hotels, restaurants -- even street vendors cashed in. Hotels alone took in about $102 million in just four days.
The crowds this year won’t be nearly as big. The inauguration is almost an afterthought.
Four years ago, I was worried about how I would get to work on Inauguration Day. The city of Washington warned commuters not to drive. Five months pregnant with my twin boys, I wedged myself into an overflowing metro car. The crowd swept me off the train at my stop. We moved as a tidal wave down K Street, then filled side streets on our way to the National Mall. There we watched the inauguration on big screens, far from the action.
There were seats available, close to the front. Tickets for those seats were distributed by Congress and members of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, for free. In ’09, some of those tickets were scalped for as much as $24,000, according to Danny Matta, who owns GreatSeats.com.
“The inauguration four years ago was like the Super Bowl on steroids,” he says.
Matta is a ticket broker. He says the prices in ’09 were off the charts. “Four years ago, everything was double, triple what it is now."
By 'everything,' Matta means inaugural tickets, tickets for the parade route and the inaugural balls -- especially the ones the Obamas actually attended. This year, Matta says, orders for tickets are just a fifth of what they were in ‘09. Demand for Obama souvenirs has also tanked.
James White is a street vendor whose cart is just down the block from the White House. He’s been selling T-shirts and trinkets here for 20 years. But the’09 inauguration was his best ever.
“It was a crazy, crazy money-making day," he says. "Buying. Selling. Selling quick. People jumping out of cars -- 'hey, I want Obama T-shirts.'”
White says he could get $20 for an Obama T-shirt in ‘09. Not this time around. He’s slashed his T-shirt prices dramatically.
“Three for $10," he says. "Three for $10 -- that’s crazy.”
Even Washington’s high-end vendors are hurting. People who peddle hotel rooms, for example. Four years ago, Washington’s hotels were almost totally booked, even though they were charging an average of $600 a night. This year, there are still rooms available. So hotels are offering perks to attract the well-heeled inaugural attendee.
Elliott Ferguson is president of Destination D.C., which is Washington’s convention and visitors bureau. He says one hotel is including a stipend for shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue in its inaugural package.
“They basically give you a line of credit with your package to stay at that particular property that allows you to go and shop for your gowns for the balls or whatever," he says.
Some hotels have already started dropping prices. One has rooms available for $199 a night. An inaugural bargain that would have been unheard of, four years ago.