Souvenirs

What do people buy at airports? Pig “poop,” cactus, records & more.

What can you  buy at airports? Gucci bags, of course, but also plenty of locally-themed items that can be great souvenirs of your trip.

Here’s a slightly different version of a column on airport bestsellers I put together for CNBC.

Bottled water and neck pillows may be the top selling items in many airport newsstands, but around the country passengers are also making room in their carry-ons for containers of mustard, tins of popcorn and a plethora of pink headphones.

As airports around the country sharpen their focus on customer satisfaction and increase their reliance on income from food and beverage, specialty retail and other non-aeronautical revenue, concourses are getting more comfortable and shop offerings are becoming more creative.

At Denver International Airport, almond toffee made in nearby Grand Junction, CO by Enstrom Coffee & Confectionary is a top seller, while at the gourmet 1897 Market operated by HMSHost at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, locally-made Sweet Girl Cookies and Queen Charlotte’s Original Pimento Cheese are customer favorites.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport does a brisk business in scorpion suckers (hard candy with a scorpion in the center) and racks up a million dollars in sales of cactus plants each year.

“We have a variety of different shapes and sizes packaged so that travelers can take one home with them,” said Heather Lissner, spokeswoman for the Aviation Department of the City of Phoenix, “We also offer a petting cactus, which is easy to touch compared to the other varieties.”

Flying Pig products – pig hats, plush pigs, pig-shaped lip gloss, bags of Pig Poop (chocolate covered peanuts) and other souvenirs depicting winged pigs – are, collectively, the top selling merchandise in the shops at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Why flying pigs? During the mid-to-late 1800s, Cincinnati was the largest pork processing center in the country, earning the nickname ‘Porkopolis.’ Winged pigs are one way the city embraces its past.

Speaking of pigs, at San Francisco International Airport – which recently added a pig to its team of therapy animals that visit with passengers – locally-made Candied Bacon Caramel Corn from Chunky Pig is reportedly flying off the shelves at the Skyline News Shop in Terminal 3.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Garrett Popcorn – a modern hometown favorite, is a perennial top seller.

Combined, the two Garrett Popcorn Shops at O’Hare sold more than 47,000 one-gallon tins of popcorn (assorted varieties) during 2016, at an average price of $34.50 a tin, said Gregg Cunningham of the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Sweet Beginnings Honey, made by bees at the airport’s apiary also sells well at the O’Hare Farmers’ Market.

During February alone, the shops at Norman Mineta San Jose International sold more than 15,000 bottles of water, more than 200 Belkin phone chargers and an equal number of Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry-branded clothing.

Sports-related merchandise is a big seller at other airports as well – especially when teams and players are winning.

At the AIRMALL at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, sports memorabilia sells well, but so does locally-made ballpark-style mustard; at the rate of 40 cases each month.

Both Stadium and Bertman brand mustards are sold at CLE, with Stadium outselling Bertman by 15 to 20 percent, AIRMALL reports.

Sasquatch and Big Foot-branded items, including t-shirts, stickers, food and books are popular right now at the Made in Oregon stores at Portland International Airport. But store manager Candace Vincent said the airport stores sold more than $1 million of carpet-themed products (neck pillows, socks, shirts, jam, etc.) during 2015 and 2016 when locals mourning the replacement of the airport’s iconic teal flooring turned the rug and its pattern into an on-line sensation.

And at Newark Liberty International Airport, travelers have been snapping up vinyl records from the shop at CBGB L.A.B (lounge and bar) operated by OTG in Terminal C.

“We don’t report volumes, but I can tell you it’s the top seller in that retail concept,” said Eric Brinker, OTG’s Vice President of Experience, “People are buying record players in the shop as well.”

In Houston, where OTG is working with United Airlines to redo the dining and retail offerings in its terminals at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, there’s also a surprising best-seller.

“We sell tons of headphones in Houston,” said Brinker, “And for some reason we sell more pink headphones in Texas than in any other place in the country.”

(All photos courtesy of the respective airports.)

Museum Monday: At SFO, All Roads Lead to Rome

Capriccio view of anicent Roman monuments c 1755. From 17th–19th Century Architectural Souvenirs from the Collection of Piraneseum

The newest exhibition from the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport includes more than 70 artworks and objects depicting Roman architecture and monuments.

Why Rome?

“Rome was the world’s largest city from circa 100 BCE to 400 CE, and the cultural and political center of an empire lasting for more than a millennium,” the exhibit notes point out. “Its territory encompassed nearly fifty 21st century nations that owe much of their culture, religion, political systems, and infrastructure to Roman models. Arguably, Rome resonates most potently in its enduring architectural forms and public monuments, which were first widely disseminated in a very familiar method —through tourism.”

Arch of Titus c. 1830

 

In this exhibit, some items show how Rome’s structures and city places looked way back when. Others depict them as they appeared when the artwork now on display was first created. And many are souvenirs brought home by visitors to Rome.

Temple of Castor and Pollux – c. 1860

 

All the objects on view – and included here – are from the Collection of Piraneseum and curators David Weingarten and Lucia Howard, souvenir collectors of the best sort.

Arch of Constantine – c 1820

All Roads Lead to Rome: 17th–19th Century Architectural Souvenirs from the Collection of Piraneseum is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport through August 13, 2017.

Oakland Int’l Airport gets a souvenir vending machine

KCI_SouveNEARVendingMachine

I became a big fan of the folks at SouveNEAR back in 2014 when they began installing vending machines at Kansas City International Airport to sell very reasonably-priced jewelry, original art, small-batch hand-printed T-shirts and a wide array of travel-sized mementos by Kansas City-based artists and makers.

oak-souvenear

Now the company has added 3 art-filled SouveNEAR vending machines at Oakland International Airport : by Gate 7 in Terminal 1 and by Gates 24 and 28 in Terminal 2.

SouveNEAR’s Oakland collection includes bottle cap magnets, flour sack dish towels, jewelry, t-shirts, notecards and more.

Here’s what I’d buy from the machine if I was passing through…

san-francisco-note-card

Dreaming of: Schiphol Airport

After spending a week in Amsterdam – including that touristy classic, a stay on a houseboat – I was actually pleased that bad weather in the U.S.delayed my flight home.

Because that gave me more time to hang out in Schiphol Airport, where I was really temped to buy these (somewhat corny, I know….) souvenirs.

The ginger cake would have been a nice gift for my neighbor (I bought her a tote bag from the Cat Cabinet – shh, don’t tell her..) and those wooden tulips – spotted for sale everywhere in Amsterdam that by the end of week I was tired of them – would have been a long-lasting spot of color in the gray Seattle winter I’ve returned to.

I know… just another reason to go back. Soon.

AMS WOODEN TULIPS

AMS Ginger Cake