by Wendy Rosen, ABI Founder
Our National Parks have some great authentic experiences but they end when you enter the gift shop.
Few NPS concession shops carry quantities of authentic American products or gifts… many of the imported products displayed are labeled in a way that might confuse customers about the country of origin for “Indian style” jewelry.
The resulting effect on the local economy of tribal artists in the southwest has been obvious. Today 60% of all Navajo jewelers are unemployed. You might think well, the imports are cheaper, aren’t they? When comparing a small authentic tribal artisan made turquoise ring in sterling to the imported competition (not turquoise, or sterling) the difference in retail price is just $2.
So why do retailers like Xanterra Corporation, and organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers oppose this law? It’s simple. It’s easier to buy from big manufacturers who manage inventory, replace damage goods, provide liberal return terms and extended payment turns… and in some cases provide other incentives not always within the guidelines of the concession contract.
The American Made Alliance held a formal (government permit issued) protest at the Grand Canyon’s largest gift shop just two years ago. This event and the problem in the middle of the deepest part of the recession got the attention of at least one member of Congress. Representative Steve Israel (NY) and two years ago, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) followed up and introduced the American Parks, American Products Act to the Senate.
The bill would require all items sold by National Parks Service gift shops to be produced in the United States. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Can you imagine your representatives in congress opposing “Made in America” legislation? GovTrack.us gives this bill only a 7% chance of getting past committee, and only a 1% chance of getting passed!
Senator Gillibrand said, “The pride of our National Parks goes hand in hand with the pride of American-made products and our strong manufacturing tradition. The American Parks, American Products Act has the potential to support manufacturing jobs, and showcase American craftsmanship.”
Currently, there are nearly 400 National Parks throughout the United States that welcome 800,000 visitors daily. In New York State alone, there are 22 national parks that generated nearly $500 million for local economies in 2010. The National Parks Service Commercial Services Program has more than 500 concession contracts that generate over $1 billion annually. Imagine the impact that $1 Billion in sales ($2.5 billion retail dollars) would make to the artisan community and the local economy of towns adjoining our National Parks and artists throughout the nation!
Anticipating the negative press that their opposition to the bill might create for the stores and the parks, the NPHA (National Park Hospitality Assn) has begun to make some very superficial changes.
We need 100,000 signatures to move this issue to the desk of President Obama. We urge you to sign our official White House Petition asking President Obama to create an Executive Order requiring the National Park Service to strictly prohibit deceptive merchandising practices and to properly supervise the “quality” of products offered and authenticity of merchandise for sale in our National Park stores. Our goal is to put authentic American Made back into our National Park experience. Sign the petition today, and please share it with your friends!