Flag sales fluctuate with sentiment about country

CHICAGO - When Dan Gaydosh strolled into The Flag Store in Crystal Lake, Ill., on Tuesday, he knew just what he needed to help celebrate the Fourth of July.

With dozens of flags to choose from, it didn't take him long to pick out a 10-inch-by-15-inch American flag that he said will look great hanging from the stoop of his home.

"I just want to show the spirit of the holiday," said Gaydosh of Crystal Lake. "I'm not making a political statement in support of the war or anything."

But sometimes that spirit can be hard to measure. After decades in the flag business, Randolph Smith, president of Chicago-based Advertising Flag Co. Inc., said he has seen interest in the flag ebb and flow, according to the general sentiment people have about the country's direction.

Immediately following the 9-11 attacks, for example, U.S. flag sales accounted for 25 percent of his business. Today, it's about 16 to 18 percent and has been declining since 2003, he said.

"When people are feeling better about the country they buy more flags," Smith said. "It was like this during the Nixon years. It wasn't our bread and butter then either."

Kimberly Sklarz, corporate secretary for Bartlett, Ill.-based FlagsUSA, said the run-up to the July 4 holiday, normally a busy time, has been particularly slow this year. The company's U.S. flag sales were down 49 percent in June over the same period last year.

"It is a very sad time right now. We are just kind of baffled by how things are going and all because of the war," Sklarz said. "We expected it to make some kind of effect on the company, but it is getting pretty bad."

Exact numbers on American flag sales nationwide are hard to come by. Some flag dealers in other parts of the country report sales are steady and, in some cases, have increased over last year.

James Giraudo, co-owner of Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Coast Flags, said his sales were up 5 percent over last year, mainly because of increased interest from businesses that want to fly the flag. Residential sales have held steady, he said.

"Everyone has their opinions about Iraq; you might be for or against (the war), but when it comes to supporting the military, there is strong support, a lot of patriotism," Giraudo said.

Some flag dealers said their businesses have been undercut by the importation of Chinese-made American flags. In 2006, $5.3 million in American flags were imported into the country, the vast majority of which came from China, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Smith, whose family-run business dates to 1936, said he makes a point of only selling American-made U.S. flags. About 70 percent of the business is making custom flags and banners for businesses.

"More and more are being imported, and it's a shame that they have to buy it as a commodity, a cookie cutter thing," Smith said. "We made a pledge to resist the manufacturers in China."

At The Flag Store in Crystal Lake, owner Edna C. McCall has one rule about the American flags that she has sold over the years: They must be made in the United States.

"I would rather not have a flag than have one that's not made in our country," said McCall.

Gaydosh appreciates McCall's attitude and said it just seems wrong to buy one made oversea s.

"I'm not a 'buy American only' type of person," Gaydosh said. "But something of this nature is sentimental and it makes a point to buy American."