May 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Post Offices To Add Souvenirs First Gift Items Sold By U.S. Postal Service To Feature Bugs Bunny Stamp

Bill Mcallister Washington Post

With the help of a “wascally wabbit,” the U.S. Postal Service is getting back into the T-shirt, coffee mug and key chain business.

Six years after it pulled the plug on sales of such merchandise in its 40,000 post offices, the agency is launching a sales blitz built around 31 souvenir items celebrating a new Bugs Bunny stamp that went on sale Friday.

T-shirts, baseball caps, ties, wrapping paper and even pewter-framed photo holders, featuring reproductions of the cartoon character’s 32-cent stamp, will soon be available from the clerks who sell stamps.

“We’ve got all this wonderful stamp art, and it seems a shame not to use it,” postal spokesman Barry Ziehl said. Postal officials said the new retail program should produce $75 million in sales this year, money that can be used to keep stamp prices down.

The new retail-sales effort, however, has already generated criticism, fueling debate over how involved the Postal Service should get in money-generating activities.

“They are losing their focus on the core business: moving the mail,” said Tom Fahey, a spokesman for the American Postal Workers Union, the federal agency’s biggest union.

Postal officials say they have learned the lessons from 1991, when then-Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank ordered an end to such sales, hoping to quell a congressional and public furor.

Sales of T-shirts, coffee mugs and other memorabilia was said to be slowing lines in postal lobbies, infuriating customers.

“We looked at the big things that caused problems before” and eliminated them, said E. Kaye DeShields, manager of retail product and service development. Only postal stores - 454 outlets that sell mailing supplies along with stamps - will be offering all 31 Bugs Bunny items, she said.

Another 3,000 post offices will be selling nine of the items and 24,000 more will be selling two items - a $9.99 Bugs Bunny tie and $9.99 earrings featuring metal reproductions of the 32-cent Bugs stamp.

The aim of postal officials is to get more postal outlets selling more merchandise, a step that DeShields said would boost the agency’s profit margins.

The Bugs Bunny products are the first of a series of items that the Postal Service plans to introduce this year using art taken from new stamps.

Some post offices soon will be offering a series of greeting cards prepared around dinosaur stamps the agency released May 1.

A third set of merchandise will be offered this fall, built around a set of “Classic Movie Monster” stamps that feature horror movie stars, such as Boris Karloff.

In an briefing for reporters, DeShields was optimistic about prospects for the merchandise, some of which was planned with the help of Warner Bros. Studios, which owns the rights to a series of Looney Tunes cartoon characters.

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