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Repainting light poles on Connecticut Avenue just south of Dupont Circle is a tedious, once-a-year job that involves just about everything there is to hate about painting: the scraping, the sanding, and the occasional pelting of pigeon crap from above. It also includes taking down the black-and-yellow banners that proclaim the area to be part of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID) and replacing them with new, red ones.
Three weeks ago, a painter removing one of the old banners heard a yell from the street below. It was a woman in a business suit. Since the banner was coming down, she asked, could she have it?
The answer was no; the banners are being saved and put in storage. But it wasn’t the last time workers would field such a request. At least 50 people, contractors say—mainly tourists and downtown workers—have asked for the used banners in recent weeks.
“People all-out beg for them,” says Carole Zeitzoff of Hahn & Hahn, the contracting firm in charge of painting the light poles. “We’re not sure why—and we never ask what they want to do with them—but it’s definitely something we haven’t seen before.”
The banners are sailcloth, 5 feet by 2-and-a-half feet, and feature the Golden Triangle logo: a golden pyramid with the slogan “The place to be in Washington, D.C.” Ripped, faded, and covered in bird droppings, they make strange objects of desire.
“When I first heard about people wanting the old banners, it struck me as slightly odd,” says Paige Muller, program director for the Golden Triangle, which was founded in 1998 and is perhaps best known for its “ambassadors,” who pick up trash and give directions to wayward tourists in the 38 square blocks between Dupont Circle and the White House. “I mean, what would anyone do with one of those things? I can’t even imagine—especially the ones that are dirty.”
Yet, anything that has the Golden Triangle logo has suddenly become a hot commodity among downtown workers. On Dec. 17, the BID held its annual holiday party at its Dupont Circle offices. Dozens of revelers were seen carting off armfuls of keepsakes with the triangular logo, including plastic cups, umbrellas, T-shirts, and watches.
“I guess you could say people were loading up on the stuff,” says Galen Lawson, a graphic designer who attended the party. “All kinds of things were stacked on the tables, and people were grabbing them. I myself got away with a cup, a shirt, and, of all things, an umbrella, which happens to be pretty nice.”
The group supplies virtually all of the goods for free, paid for by a special tax that is levied on businesses in the Golden Triangle. The tax also pays for the banners, street cleaning, and the group’s other services. Last year, the BID spent $325,000 on promotions.
Aside from the logo, there’s not much that makes the loot distinctive. The Golden Triangle’s yellow plastic cup is just a plastic cup, not unlike the ones given away on bar crawls. Yet Muller says the group fields nonstop requests for cups, stickers, pens, shirts, and other goods.
“I think we have even gotten calls from Virginia asking for our stuff, which we are happy to give away,” Muller says. “If people want to outfit Grandma in our stuff, that’s fine with us. Bring it on.”
Some say the appeal is in the clean design of the logo. Others say it’s the quality of the merchandise. And some privately admit that they’re suckers for anything that’s free.
But some insist they want the shirts and other goodies because they’re proud of the BID’s accomplishments.
“Since they came along, downtown has improved 200 percent,” says Steve Tirpak, a manager at the American Bankers Association, who requested several of the group’s free shirts on Jan. 6. “There is less trash, the streets are safer, and overall, everything is better, and I am proud of that.”
But Tirpak admits that’s not the only reason he wanted shirts. “Come on—it’s winter and it’s cold outside,” he says. “These shirts are really great for layering under sweaters.” CP