Desert Storm T-shirts a hot item in sales of gulf gear WAR IN THE GULF


January 25, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

You can find them in gas stations, truck stops, stores selling military goods, even in American Legion posts -- Desert Storm T-shirts that are selling nearly as fast as a Howard County graphics company can print them.

The shirts were the brainstorm of designer Jane Whyte and her boss, Samuel R. Andelman, owner of Graphic Concepts, who plans to donate $1 for each one sold to the Armed Forces Relief Fund.

The company is one of many churning out Desert Storm products, some purely for profit and others to help veterans or military families and support groups.

War broke out Jan. 16, and by the next night the Graphic Concepts press was turning out shirts -- each featuring the words "Desert Storm" in a patriotic red, white and blue flag motif, with blowing sand and a broken Iraqi flag on the ground.

"We got a couple hundred sold in just three days," said Michael C. Foder, a 34-year-old Marine Corps veteran and commander of Laurel American Legion Post No. 60. "I love it . . .it wasn't a tacky shirt -- not like 'I'd fly 10,000 miles to smoke a camel,' that shows what's supposed to be an Iraqi on a camel, with [rifle scope] cross-hairs."

The legion post was selling Desert Storm shirts for cost at $8; Greenbelt Legion Post No. 136 was charging $10 and planned to divide the profits between the Charlotte Hall veterans home in Southern Maryland and the relief fund that helps military families; Truckers Inn, a truck stop restaurant in Jessup, priced the shirts at $11; and Bunkerhill PX, a Laurel store specializing in military supplies, was selling them for $12.99.

Whatever the price, merchants were reporting hot sales of the T-shirts -- one product among many in a booming wartime marketplace. The products range from gas masks and camouflage uniforms to war games, shortwave radios, flags and maps. With the war in its second week, some items were getting hard to find.

The 20-store Sunny's Surplus chain, the area's biggest retailer of military surplus, had sold all its approximately 150 gas masks by last weekend and was awaiting a new supply. Company president Stephen A. Blake said there has also been a run on American flags and desert-camouflage "battle dress uniforms."

Why camouflager clothing? "You have to ask the users," Mr. Blake said. "Because of Desert Storm, it's somewhat of a fashion item."

As for the gas masks, Mr. Blake said, "We always sold a few -- a lot of times to collectors." But now, he speculated, there must be some people who feel it's nice to have a gas mask around the house.

The manager of Geostat, a map store in the Gallery at Harborplace, was on pushpins and needles yesterday awaiting a new shipment of Middle East "crisis maps," featuring such landmarks as ballistic missile sites, oil fields and pipelines.

"It comes in paper [$6.95] and laminated [$10.95]," said manager Stephen P. Scannell. "We were stocking 50 . . . but that wasn't enough. We're getting in 50 the end of this week and 50 next week, and we've got 35 people on our waiting list."

The war, he said, has had a "tremendous effect" on business. "We're completely sold out of our Middle East maps."

Baltimore-based Monarch Avalon Inc., producer of Avalon Hill games, reported a dramatic increase in orders for Middle East-situated battle strategy games including "Gulf Strike," which was just updated because of the war.

The demand for flags has left manufacturers and retail outlets hard pressed to meet orders.

"This sort of patriotism I didn't think was still alive or possible," said William E. Barr, the 41-year-old manager of Flags Banners & Pennants in the 400 block of Park Avenue, citing sales of $H hundreds of American flags -- some to hang in a window with special stars symbolizing children in the service.

"Not since World War II has this country seen this sort of thing," Mr. Barr said, noting that "like everybody else, I'm out of stock."

"Amazing," was how salesman William D. Naughton Jr. described the demand for flags at Loane Bros. Inc., where the main business is normally awnings and tent rentals. "We're almost sold out, and our factory is not delivering flags for three weeks."

The factory is Dettra Flag Co. Inc. in Oaks, Pa., where President William C. Spangler said: "I don't think anyone thought the patriotic response would ever be as overwhelming as it has been. We expected support for our troops, but this is just beyond all expectations."

But at least there was no shortage of T-shirts -- and the Graphic Concepts Desert Storm struck a particularly responsive chord with Truckers Inn restaurant manager Ann Coyle.

"My son's over there," she said of 32-year-old James R. Tatom, a Navy corpsman on duty in the gulf. "And one of my friends, and our cook [Army Reservist Frederick 'B. J.' Gilmore] just got his telegram to report on Jan. 31.

"It means a lot to everybody, it does," Ms. Coyle said. "All of us and all of the truckers around here are behind them 100 percent."

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