MANCHESTER — Elliott Nachwalter now knows how George Orwell would have felt in 1985 — probably a bit dated, perhaps even a little irrelevant.
Like Orwell, the author of "1984," Nachwalter's run has finally come to an end. Look no further than his countdown clocks, which should be striking zero, in unison, at noon today.
Nachwalter, a 58-year-old Arlington resident, has been counting down the hours, minutes and seconds to President George W. Bush's departure from office for the past three-and-a-half years.
That's when, upset with Bush's environmental policies, he started BLD (Bush's Last Day) Designs Inc. with his wife, Cynthia, now a million-dollar Manchester-based business that sells "01.20.09" and "Bush's Last Day" merchandise, including bumper stickers, buttons, T-shirts and — the countdown clocks.
"It's become an icon," Nachwalter said last week in his Manchester office. "It's like a cult thing, which is really, really terrific."
He said the message has taken on a life of its own. "People have made '01.20.09' what it is for them," he said. "For some people, it's specifically about the war in Iraq, others it's about the environment and others it's, 'Maybe I'll get a job after '01.20.09.''"
Part of the inspiration for Nachwalter's company came well before he, or almost anyone, had ever heard of Bush.
He was sitting in a bar in Los Gatos, Calif., when he met Gary Dahl, the inventor of the "Pet Rock."
Dahl made millions off the six-month fad in 1975, using it to open Carry Nations, the bar where he gave Nachwalter, a pipemaker at the time, one piece of advice. "He said to me, 'If you ever get an idea, and you really believe in it, just go with it — you never know.'" Nachwalter recalled.
"I filed it away," he said, "but took it to heart."
Nachwalter remembered Dahl's advice when, watching a news story about Bush's environmental policies, he turned to Cynthia and asked, "When is this going to be over?"
The couple started selling "01.20.09" bumper stickers and buttons in their Manchester store, Northshire Outfitters, which has since been sold. Soon, they created the Web site, www.bushslastday.com, and their message began to spread.
"It spread like crazy in the first six months," Nachwalter, a Manhattan native with shaggy gray hair and a full beard, said.
Thousands of hits
Now, the merchandise, which includes gear in support of President Barack Obama, garners thousands of hits a day on the Web site and is sold in 750 stores across the country.
The original "01.20.09" bumper sticker makes frequent appearances in the 2007 movie, "Reign Over Me," starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, and has been spotted on a Humvee in Iraq. Rosie O'Donnell often wears the T-shirt, and Nachwalter's been told that a number of countdown clocks are sitting in Republican Congressional offices. "They were probably counting down to (Sen. John McCain), but they were still counting down," Nachwalter said.
Nachwalter said that although Bush's presidency has benefited him financially, he has no qualms about him leaving office. "It's more important, to me, what happens with the country and the people in it then a business," he said. "I'll go on to something else."
He said he was approached about making pro-McCain gear during his campaign but refused. "You got to do what you feel good about," he said.
The company sold more than 50,000 balloons leading up to the inauguration and cleared out most of its merchandise through sales. Nachwalter said he and Cynthia are planning to celebrate the day quietly, with friends.
As for the future, the couple has trademarked the phrase, "let peace rain!" and a more local line, "Vermont, as green as it gets." They are also planning lines for the other New England states.
"It was a great ride," Nachwalter said. "I would do it again — I would definitely do it again."