WASHINGTON – Jim Warlick is a collector of political memorabilia and the owner of White House Gifts, a Washington memorabilia store located across from the White House. Up to 3,000 people a day visit the store to purchase presidential souvenirs, trinkets and other gifts.
Warlick’s father, a Democrat and history buff, worked in politics, and in 1965 the family took a trip to the nation’s capital.
“I was in eighth grade and wanted to come see John Kennedy’s grave. While I was here I bought a small bust of John Kennedy. It’s the symbol of my earliest memory and I think the Kennedy assassination really made me aware of politics.
Warlick grew up in a small North Carolina town called Morgantown. He went to community college there and then went to the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He dropped out of school four times to work on campaigns and travel with candidates.
“I went to Raleigh and got a job in the legislature working as a Senate Sergeant-at-Arms while I was in school, and I really love this guy from Greensboro NC who had was chairman of the first very progressive Civil Rights Commission. And he decided to run for the Senate against Jesse Helms. And so, he asked me to come and help in the countryside, and I lived with Senator Smith and his family for a year, ”he said. “We weren’t staying in hotels when we were traveling, we were staying with people, because we wanted to hear what people in the community were saying. I learned from Senator Smith that you have to stay close and listen a lot.
Warlick says he believed he would eventually become an adviser to a congressman or senator, but that did not happen.
In 1980, Warlick designed campaign buttons for President Jimmy Carter. While he knew there was also a market for the buttons for Carter’s opponent Ronald Reagan, Warlick would not produce them. “I’m a Carter man,” he said.
“I went to the Republican convention in Detroit and sold campaign buttons around the corner, making more money in a week than in a year working for the congressman,” says Jim Warlick . So I went home and I said, ‘Congressman, I have to stop, because I travel and see the country, and I want to sell buttons all over the country. “”
Warlick decided to expand his business, and in 1989 he opened a souvenir store in Washington called Political Americana.
“Bill Clinton used to come,” Warlick said. “He came to town for fundraisers and he always stopped by the kiosk to buy all of my Truman buttons. He was a huge Harry Truman fan and collected memorabilia. Hillary also bought her buttons.
Warlick produced and distributed buttons, posters, and stickers for the Clinton campaign in 1992 and 1996. In 2001, he began purchasing political items: First Lady dresses; a limousine President Kennedy used in Fort Worth, Texas, Kennedy’s shaving kit, and one of the pens Kennedy used to sign the Peace Corps Act. Then there was the Boeing 747 which had been John Edwards’ field plane and a replica of the Oval Office built by Warner Brothers.
“I have an excellent catalog of stories, books and collectibles,” says Warlick. “It’s a non-partisan tribute to presidential history.”
Warlick recently opened an ice cream shop called “Presidential Palps”. Located across from the White House Gift Shop, the boutique offers 16 flavors, all named after different presidents.
Warlick auctioned off his collection of planes and other artifacts, to use the proceeds for a museum he is working to establish in his hometown of North Carolina.
“The most important thing left for me to do now is a history museum dedicated to honoring factory workers, furniture workers, hosiery factories and textile workers. My mother worked in the hosiery factory. Entitled ‘The Worker’s Legacy Exhibition’, it will tell the story of all workers and what their life was like at the time.