Trumptana – a retail shop featuring merchandise exclusively related to President Donald Trump – opened its doors in Manhattan on Monday, a mere two weeks after proprietor Erik Esper conceived the idea for his new business.
“I was in Deadwood, S.D., for a car auction and I went to a Trump store,” Esper explained Tuesday morning, as customers from Whitehall browsed the new shop for apparel they plan to wear to a weekend rally in Helena. “When I was driving back with my buddy, I decided I was going to do this.”
Though Esper has no prior retail experience, he is a businessman and self-described entrepreneur. He owns Tentmakers Property Management and plans eventually to open a restaurant in the space currently occupied by Trumptana at 324 East Main Street. He admits he had never heard of a Trump store prior to his South Dakota vacation, but was undaunted by the prospect of opening a similar enterprise in the Gallatin Valley.
Esper says the timing was right, not just because the 2020 presidential election campaign is in its final weeks, but also because tenants in the Main Street Manhattan building he purchased in June notified him while he was away that they were terminating their lease.
“My space became vacant, and I decided to go ahead,” says Esper, explaining he was motivated by the opportunity to give Republicans a louder voice in the run-up to Nov. 3.
“This is such a pivotal election,” Esper says. “Is it going to be America after the election?”
He says the customers who have visited his shop so far feel the same way.
“There’s a wide array of people fed up with things and worried about the direction it could be heading,” he says.
Esper also has encountered plenty of people with differing political opinions. Before he even thought about opening the store, he raised a Trump 2020 flag on the pole in front of the building, which motivated his prior tenants to break their lease early. It apparently also prompted vandals to paste signs to the flagpole and building before Trumptana’s doors opened for business.
Passing motorists don’t hesitate to express divergent viewpoints, either.
“Mostly we get honks and waves, but one mom in a minivan, with kids in the car, went by and flipped us off,” Esper says. “It’s been interesting.”
By the time Trumptana opened for business Monday morning, word had spread and customers were waiting in the parking lot for the doors to open. Trumptana employee Lydia Baker says the shop sold out of sweatshirts and decks of Trump playing cards within a couple of hours (more have been ordered).
Meanwhile, there is plenty of other merchandise for Trump supporters to browse, including bandannas, bumper stickers, blue line flags, buttons, yard signs, metal signs, banners, fanny packs and even Christmas decorations. Face masks and T-shirts have been especially popular with young people.
“The energy in the youth is really exciting,” Esper says. “Every person that comes through the door is excited and encouraged.”
Esper says he isn’t “a huge political guy,” but he will donate a portion of Trumptana’s proceeds to the Republican Party. He says his choice of candidate is rooted in his faith.
“I believe in Jesus – I don’t think you can be a Bible-believing Christian and vote for Joe Biden,” he says.
He also believes strongly in the political process, and encourages everyone to get out and vote, whatever their political persuasion.
“We should be able to stand for a political party and not be ridiculed one way or another, whatever side you’re on,” he says.
Trumptana will be open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at least through the election season and perhaps beyond.
“Our intention is to stay open up until or shortly after the election,” Esper says. “As long as people want merchandise, I will provide it.”