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For Selecting Christmas Gifts, Nixon Is Still the One

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here’s a little something for under the tree that Debi Beck pitched to holiday shoppers Friday--a signed, pumpkin-decorated card that Richard M. Nixon once gave to trick-or-treaters at his post-presidency home in New Jersey (in lieu of candy).

Wait, there’s more--perhaps a 1996 holiday card of his Birthplace (with a capital B) or a wood-carved likeness of the former president flashing double peace signs, or . . .

Friday kicked off the busiest time of year for Beck, the personal shopper at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace gift shop. No other presidential library in the country has a personal shopper--a testament to the booming popularity of the Nixon gift shop, officials say.

“Nothing fascinates the American people as much as the presidency, and no president fascinates them as much as Richard Nixon, love him or hate him,” said Nixon library consultant Sandy Quinn.

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Nixon library officials say their 340-square-foot gift shop is the smallest of the country’s 10 modern presidential centers--and, they say, the most profitable.

The gift shop, which is privately run, won’t release sales figures.

But spokesman Kevin Cartwright says the Nixon shop outsells all the other presidential library gift shops, seven of which are run by the National Archives and Records Administration.

“I would not doubt that at all,” said Lynda Schuler, spokeswoman for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley. “Those guys at Nixon are very clever marketers, and they work very hard at it.”

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This year’s Nixon holiday catalog is the biggest ever and, for the first time, is available on the Web (https://www.chapman.edu/nixon/catalog). Calls to the library’s catalog number--(800) USA-8865 within the United States--come from as far as England, China and Japan.

During the holiday season, the Nixon shop distributes 200,000 catalogs worldwide, compared with the 500 given out by the Reagan library.

Regular catalog shoppers include former Nixon confidant Bebe Rebozo and a federal judge in Texas who was appointed by Nixon and orders his holiday gifts from the library each year.

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But even people who have never seen the catalog or set foot in the store know about the ever-popular Nixon-Elvis trinkets, commemorating a meeting between “the president and the king” at the Oval Office in December 1970.

Several authors on national book tours drew their biggest crowds at the Nixon store, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who sold 2,200 books there this year.

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Next year, plans call for the shop to quadruple in size, expanding into the parking lot, and possibly opening a South Coast Plaza branch.

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The shop limits its merchandise to items of “good taste,” Quinn said.

Nothing in the shop commemorates the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “I don’t know that it lends itself to key chains and T-shirts,” Quinn said.

The most popular holiday items are the Christmas ornaments, including one with an American Eagle, marked with the Nixon library logo.

Other items are tucked away because there is no room to display them. For collectors, Beck will suggest items in storage, such as the autographed pictures of Charles de Gaulle or Robert Frost.

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She gets to know regulars, such as a Los Angeles man who has bought a $1,500 copy of Nixon’s leather-bound, personally autographed memoirs for each of his three sons upon their births.

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Once, she helped a woman find a gift for her son--a 1972 poster from Nixon’s last campaign stop in Ontario, an event the woman’s son had talked about attending.

On Friday, in a red, white and blue suit, Beck chatted with the holiday crowd.

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Ara Oghoorian, 22, a regular Nixon catalog shopper, visited the store for the first time.

“I was hoping it would be bigger,” said Oghoorian, a San Francisco resident. “The Phantom of the Opera shop is bigger than this.”

Manuel Pires, 38, drives from Bakersfield to shop at the store every few months. The Nixon pens make great Christmas gifts, he said.

“You lie a little,” he suggested. “You say, ‘President Nixon gave me this.’ ”

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