Black Friday At Capitol Store

by Anthony Pignataro | November 26, 2010 6:12 am

NOV. 26, 2010

It being Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, I decided to check out the place where the real power-brokers, the legislative aides and staffers who write the bills and reports that keep the state humming, do their gift shopping. Yes, I visited Capitol Books & Gifts[1], located in the basement of the state Capitol.

There I found Judy Petrocchi, who was working behind the counter. She’s been there for the last 10 years, steadily selling assorted trinkets and souvenirs to tourists and staffers three days a week. “I consider this my pre-retirement job,” she said.

While legislative aides and officials do patronize the gift shop for those official knickknacks like crystal boxes, plaques and coins emblazoned with the seals of either the state Assembly or Senate that end up being given to dignitaries and such, that’s not how the shop makes most of its money.

“Our biggest clientele are fourth graders,” Petrocchi said. “Kids’ tour groups typically start in January. January through the summer is when we get most school groups. We kind of gear to California tourism and youth. People come in every time a tour starts, on the hour, and check things out. Not all make purchases, but they do come in.”

The shop is pretty small – it’s basically a large closet, next to the Capitol Publications Office – but the sheer quantity of California and Capitol-related items that are offered can be overwhelming. There are postcards — with and without California wildflower seeds — maps, key chains, Christmas ornaments, Smokey the Bear dolls, not-quite best-selling copies of James R. Mills’ 1987 book A Disorderly House, those fake parchment copies of old American documents and even some comically gaudy $20 Civil War neckties that my editor once bought because he needed a tie — any tie — to gain access to the Senate floor.

“People demanded Arnold items when he first came in,” Petrocchi said. People demanded, and the gift shop provided – oh, how they provided. There are official Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger t-shirts, buttons, golf balls and commemorative coins ($24.95 for gold e-plate, $17.95 for bronze). And for the ladies, there’s the Maria Shriver Remarkable Women line of jewelry, which when I stopped in earlier this week seemed to be just two items: a $75 necklace and a $150 bracelet.

But now, the Schwarzenegger administration is coming to a close. What of the items then?

“Well I’m sure we’ll have to put them on sale,” Petrocchi said.

If they have any stuff left, that is – people are picking up the Arnold items left and right because he’s leaving. Indeed, the bins holding the Arnold t-shirts ($19.95) and golf balls ($6.50 for two) were practically empty when I stopped by.

The shop has been run by the Sacramento nonprofit Developmental Disabilities Service Organization[2] (DDSO) since 1982, when the shop opened as part of the Capitol restoration. Mary Short, wife of former state Sen. Alan Short, opened DDSO in 1975 to provide arts, personal finance, health, volunteer, education and job opportunities to those with developmental disabilities.

All of the shop’s proceeds (save for book sales, which goes to the Volunteer Association), go to DDSO, which in turn helps staff the shop with some of their clients. One of those clients, Jenny Jouse, has worked at the shop for 15 years and has her photo – along with Governor Schwarzenegger – in a display case at the shop’s entrance.

“When Arnold first came into office, he came to the shop,” Petrocchi said. “But Jenny wasn’t here. She got word back that she wanted to meet him, and they set up a time for her to go up to his office and meet him. It was a nice thing to do. It was her 15 minutes of fame.”

“I’m going to wait and see if I can a meeting with Jerry Brown,” Jouse said.

Ahh, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown. He’ll taking power soon, but the gift shop doesn’t really have anything commemorating him. They used to, but that was years ago.

“We used to have postcards with his portrait,” Petrocchi said. “Have you ever seen his portrait?”

Oh yes, I said: I saw it when I was a kid taking part in my school tour of the Capitol.

-Anthony Pignataro

  1. Capitol Books & Gifts:
  2. Developmental Disabilities Service Organization:

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