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Beret Fever in Salt Lake City - 2002-02-17

People are waiting in line for hours in Salt Lake City, but not at Olympic venues. The are lined up at souvenir shops, where they hope to buy the hottest selling Olympic items. For U.S. fans, the biggest sellers are blue berets like the ones being worn by the U.S. athletes.

It is a kind of beret fever, says Mark Hardy, a souvenir shop manager in downtown Salt Lake City. He cannot keep the blue berets in stock. "We got a shipment in last Tuesday of 100 of them. They were sold in 15 minutes out of the box," he says. "And we were just selling two per customer, so when we put them behind the counter, the line just formed instantly. A lady in our store actually had one purchased, not from our store, and she put it on and somebody walked in our store and paid her $150 dollars in cash for it."

Mark Hardy sells the berets for $40 each, when he can get them. He has no more berets, but still sells enough souvenirs to generate $80,000 dollars a day in business. "Fleece vests with the Olympic logo on it have been very, very popular, and then all the shot glasses," he says. "Everyone loves the shot glasses and coffee mugs, which is kind of ironic being here in Utah."

That's because most people in Utah are Mormon, and Mormons do not drink alcohol or coffee.

Customer Pasha Cowan of Boulder, Colorado, wants another popular item, cowbells, and maybe, she jokes, one of the male athletes. "What do I wish I could take home? The skier from Fiji, but if I can't get that, just something that's not going to be too huge to carry back in the car," she says. "The cowbells are the biggest thing, and the pins."

Anything with a patriotic theme is popular with American spectators. One Salt Lake City housewife designs and sells caps and vests that display the U.S. flag. "They're selling fantastic, and I think it's just America supporting America," says a housewife.

Down the street is one of the busiest stores in Salt Lake City. It still has berets in stock, and Mark Petty is one of hundreds of customers lined up to buy one. He's been standing here four hours, and hopes they won't run out. "If I can't get it, I'll come back in a day or two," he says.

Chuck Brown from Albuquerque, New Mexico, needs four berets, one for each of his children. He says he's determined to get them. "We're trying to do this without violence, but if they run out before we get there, there could be some violence ensure," he says.

Farther back in the line, Deborah has waited three hours for her berets, but doesn't mind the wait. "It's fun because the people are fun and we're meeting lots of people. It's just fun," she says.

Coming out of the store, two triumphant customers proudly display new berets to an envious crowd. They are navy blue with red trim, emblazoned an Olympic logo and lettering that says "USA 2002." Michael and Sidney Babinsky of Sandy, Utah, waited six-and-a-half hours to get in the store. "Yeah, it was worth it. We had nice people in line, did a little pin-trading, spent more time with the wife. You've got to love that."

The hundreds of people still waiting in line have only one thing on their minds: "Berets!!"