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In Atlanta, An Unlikely Duke Store Outpost

Photo by Chase Olivieri/The Chronicle

ATLANTA -- Visitors walk into the Marriott Marquis here on the Lobby Level, and when they check in at the concierge desk, they can turn around and look down onto the Marquis Level.

And there, they might see something they wouldn't expect to see: a Duke Store outpost, in a small window on the lower level.

Jim Zechini and Phil White, two Duke Store employees, drove South Wednesday in a University fan brimming with Duke memorabilia. They set up shop early Thursday morning and plan to sell almost all of the gear represented in Bryan Center score until Saturday afternoon. It's the 10th year the Duke Store has traveled with the Blue Devils to the ACC Tournament, and every year, they call ahead to the team's hotel and, at the request of the Iron Dukes, find a space to sell Duke clothes, pennants, buttons and more.

The windowfront shop, adorned with a white Duke Store banner, is adjacent to the area where the Iron Dukes, the University's athletic fundraising organization, eat breakfast every morning. Zechini said he does the most business early in the morning, before the donors head to the Georgia Dome, and the best-selling items have been Iron Duke polos, Cameron Crazies T-shirts and face decals.

Although teams traditionally stay in different hotels--this year, the 12 ACC squads have booked eight hotels, ranging from the Hyatt and Marriott to the Ritz-Carlton--Zechini thinks Duke might be unique in its on-site sales.

"We've never seen another one," Zechini said, referring to another school store.

Business has been slightly down this year, Zechini said. He added that he hasn't seen as many Iron Dukes as he usually does, which could be a result of the recession, but Zechini also attributed the decline to the distance between Durham and Atlanta. When the Tournament is held in Greensboro or Charlotte, there are inevitably more Duke fans.

Sometimes, the Blue Devils are the only team in their local hotel. This time, they share it with Clemson and its fans, some of whom sneered at the store when they looked down from the concierge, Zechini said.

The hotel had already reserved the space Sunday, so Zechini and White will pack up Saturday afternoon. The Blue Devils might play in the final Sunday, but a long drive home awaits at least two University employees.


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