Jenice Armstrong: He's a big Obama fan

Everett Staten (above) with some of his merchandise that he sells at the Obama Boutique, in Mount Airy.

ISAW A GUY outside of Whole Foods yesterday walking a dog with a "Barack" bandanna tied around its neck.

And there's an image seared in my brain of an elderly woman on YouTube in a fringed dress emblazoned with a giant image of Obama and practicing the Obama Hustle line dance.

The John Whitehead Foundation, based in West Philly, helped some local kids cut a rap CD to the tune of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," that they are calling simply, "The Obama Song."

I'm fascinated by how politics and pop culture have fused during this election season.

No longer is it enough to wear a campaign button with your candidate's name on it. That's practically passe. You have to take it a step further, add some edge. I just got an e-mail with the slogan "Sen. Barack Obama, That One for President."

Which is why I had to make my way over to the Obama Boutique, in Mount Airy, this weekend.

Across the street from an Obama campaign office, it's a makeshift operation at Germantown and Mount Pleasant avenues.

When I was there, a small but steady stream of customers dropped by to pose for photos with a life-size cardboard cutout of Obama. They also bought lawn signs, baseball caps, refrigerator magnets and other trinkets with Obama's image or name on it.

And while there wasn't an overabundance of Obamaesque merchandise, the Obama Boutique does stock a supply of T-shirts with Obama's image, some created by Philadelphia artists.

"This isn't shopping - this is collecting," pointed out Everett Staten, a local event planner who set up the shop six weeks ago. "This is something you can hang onto."

Staten, who heads a company called Everett & Associates, was inspired by how well the Obama buttons he made and sold during his annual Black History Showcase had done. He raised enough to donate a couple of thousand dollars to Obama for America.

After the Mount Airy field office for Obama opened, Staten was asked if he'd be willing to sell more buttons to help offset operating costs. That got Staten all revved up.

He enlisted the services of Michelle Pierce, a graphic artist who does work for his special-events company and who created a pin-dot design of Obama's face. It's on their best-selling women's T-shirt.

Staten also contacted Mark G., a West Philly-based artist, who'd sold him a line drawing of the candidate.

Reproductions of it are for sale at the Obama boutique. And CDs of the Obama song are going for $5 apiece.

"This is how this thing developed, " Staten explained as customers milled around. "It wasn't trying to be thought out. It was all, say, 'What can I do to raise some money for Obama?' "

Although Staten says he's already given the maximum allowed to the campaign, he's still in fundraising mode. He hopes to rent a giant-screen TV to show the Inaugural Address in Independence Park. Plans also are in the works for an inaugural ball at the Constitution Center. But, last I checked, Obama still has to win the election. Meanwhile, Staten is planning a returns-watching party at North by Northwest, 7165 Germantown Ave., at 7 tonight.

"This is the power of positive thinking," he said. "There can be no other options." *

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