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Rio Olympics becoming reality; bring cash for souvenirs

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AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Rio de Janeiro Olympics are still just over five weeks away. But they become a tangible reality on Friday when one of their so-called "Mega" souvenir shops opens on Copacabana Beach.

Bring plenty of cash, at least for anything more than a keychain that sells for 25 Brazilian reals ($8). A bikini with the Olympic logo will cost about $100, and a commemorative gold medal at just over $2,000. A bottle of Brazilian wine — hardly world-famous — with an Olympic logo lists for $40.

Olympic merchandising is big business.

Rio's head of licensing and retail sales, Sylmara Multini, says organizers hope to sell merchandise worth about 1 billion Brazilian reals ($310 million) to Olympic visitors.

"Our products are very top quality products and we feel this is a fair price for them," Multini told The Associated Press.

Multini said Rio will operate 132 stores around town during the Olympics, many of which will be small kiosks like the six to be set up at the famous Maracana stadium. She said all of the stores are operated by individual companies, which pay royalties to the organizing committee.

"We don't own the stores, and we don't set the prices," Multini said.

Multini talked up the beachwear on sale— the flip-flops, the beach towels, the swimsuits.

"This is first time in the games that we have such a substantial beach line," she said. "It couldn't be anything different. We're in Copacabana. We're in Rio, and we believe these are the products that are really going to fly off the shelf."

Brazil is in the midst of its steepest recession since the 1930s. As reporters were shown the souvenir store on Thursday, across town some of the city's soup kitchens for the poor were being closed.

The governor of Rio de Janeiro says the state is broke, jeopardizing policing during the games. The completion of a subway line for the games is also in jeopardy. All state-run schools have been hit by teacher strikes. Hospitals are operating, but many workers are not being paid.

The show for reporters also came a day after a mutilated body washed up on the beach, just a short walk from the merchandise tent and the beach volleyball venue.

Alex Martins, cradling his 9-month-old daughter Camila, stopped by the store during a day at the beach. He said he'd probably limit his gifts for Camila to a small stuffed animal for $40.

"I think this is will be very expensive for regular people here," Martins said. "Maybe some will try to buy, but not many will be able to because of the bad economic times. This will be for tourists, I think."

The 1,800 square-meter (19,300 square-feet) layout on Copacabana is one of the three largest souvenir stores for the games. The largest store will be a 5,000 square-meter (53,800 square-feet) store in the Olympic Park, while the Athletes' Village shop will be 1,000 square-meters (10,750 square-feet).

The Copa store could be a windfall for vendors operating kiosks up and down Avenida Atlantica, which runs the 4-kilometer (2.5 mile) length of Copacabana beach.

Any Merci works at the kiosk just outside the store — located between Posts 3-4 on the beach — and serves up machete-opened coconuts and $4 caipirinhas to thirsty customers. She's worked around the beach for a dozen years and has never seen business this bad.

"This last year has been horrible,' she said. "I'm hopeful we'll do some business, but I'm not sure how hopeful we should be."

Juliana Mesquita worked alongside Any on Thursday. She senses the possibility for a good few months.

"We're looking for the foreigners to come by and spend something here," she said. "I hope they don't spend it all inside (the store)."

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