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There’s gold in them thar novelty items

The trickiest thing about being in the souvenir business can be figuring out what business you’re in. “‘Souvenir’ is French—it means ‘remembrance,'” says Scott Borowsky, the executive editor of Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties magazine. “I can take three different items and get three different views on what they are.”

The accepted standard for defining a souvenir—or novelty or gift item—centers on intent: If it’s a soap dish with a whale on it and it’s sold in an aquarium, then it’s in. An old bottle of Pepto-Bismol, not so much (even if it does remind you of the time you rode the Tower of Terror).

This month, industry figures will descend on Las Vegas for the Souvenir & Resort Gift Show, an annual event that showcases the latest in Derek Jeter key chains, Justin Bieber pillows and hats for dogs.

Laugh not: According to the research firm Barnes Reports, the U.S. novelty, gift and souvenir market will generate almost $15 billion this year. Visit the Vegas expo and you will hear the phrase “recession-proof” almost as often as “breakfast buffet.”

“People may not consider buying a car right now,” says Borowsky, “but something for 15 or 20 bucks? Why not?” The numbers suggest that consumers are asking the same question. —CHRIS WRIGHT

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