Near the lone stoplight on Main Street, a for-sale sign hangs from a dusty window where a souvenir shop used to sell cufflinks, cowboy boots and denim shirts emblazoned “The Western White House.”
Another gift store across the street is shuttered too, though a sign says it will reopen elsewhere. And the biggest souvenir shop in Crawford is reporting a drop in sales.
The Washington professionals have their polls, their focus groups and their newspaper editorials. But Crawford, the 700-person town where President Bush’s ranch is located, has its trinket stores, and they have fallen on hard times, in what some say reflects the president’s sinking popularity over the war in Iraq and a daunting influx of anti-war protesters.
Norma Nelson Crow closed her Crawford Country Style store three months ago.
“I feel so strongly about the president that I wanted to continue to support him any way I could,” she said. “But I’m distressed about the poll numbers and think it was a combination of things: that and the protesters.”
It was in 1999 that then-Gov. George W. Bush bought his 1,600-acre ranch seven miles from downtown in this ranching and gas-drilling region 20 miles west of Waco. After Bush took office as president in 2001, the ranch became known as the Western White House, drawing thousands of visitors a year hoping to see the ranch, which is not even visible from the road.
Although locals were thrilled to see more tourist traffic, they opted for small ventures like souvenir shops. Crawford still has only one restaurant, two gas stations and no hotel.
“Our economy didn’t depend on him before he was elected, and it won’t depend on him after he’s out of office,” said Kenneth Judy, vice president of Security Bank of Crawford, which opened in 2002 and is the town’s first bank since the Depression.
After reporting nearly $813,000 in gross sales in 1999, Crawford’s souvenir shops and other retail businesses generated $1.03 million in 2000, the year Bush was first elected. Sales climbed steadily during Bush’s first term to $2.66 million in 2004.
But in 2005, sales had dropped to $2.3 million. They were down as much as 20 percent in each of the first two quarters of 2006. And while the third- and fourth-quarter figures are not yet available, all indications are that the slide continued.
The Crawford Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture said it had no figures on how many visitors the city gets.
Crow suggested that the anti-war demonstrations that Cindy Sheehan started in Crawford in 2005 have led some tourists to stay away.
“When the president would be home, more people would come hoping to get a glimpse of him,” she said. “But with the frustrations caused by the protesters, it wasn’t as popular to come to Crawford and pick up trinkets.”
Another possible reason given for the downturn in business: Bush did not visit his ranch in 2006 as often he used to. In past years, more visitors flocked to town when the president was here.
Bill Johnson, owner of Crawford’s largest gift shop, Yellow Rose, said he plans to continue running his store, which also sells crosses, saddles, guns and Western clothing in addition to coffee mugs, T-shirts and other souvenirs.
“I think the president’s ratings will go up, and when that happens, the sales go up,” he said. “As far as Crawford’s future, I think it looks bright. Is it going to be as hectic as it was a few years ago? No. But Crawford’s name is known far and wide, and when he retires, people who are endeared to him will want to come to Crawford.”