A wave of demand for American flags High demand for flags Symbol: Since last week's terrorist attacks, a Carroll County business has been overwhelmed with people who want to buy the Stars and Stripes to show their patriotism.

September 20, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Like many Americans, Allan A. Dale felt momentarily paralyzed by last week's terrorist attacks. It never occurred to him that he was in for perhaps the busiest week of his life, that the tears and the chills would gradually cease and people would want to rally around the symbol he sells.

For 11 years, Dale and his wife, Trish, have sold flags from the bottom floor of their home in northernmost Carroll County, a few miles north of Manchester, about 500 feet from the Pennsylvania line.

Their business, Regal Flags and Poles Inc., offers national, state, corporate and custom flags and has grown 40 percent a year since it went online in early 1999 at www.flags.com. But never have the Dales experienced anything like the past eight days, as flag mania has swept the country.

People who haven't given the American flag a second thought since grade school now want to fly the Stars and Stripes from porches, cars and storefronts.

The telephone began ringing the morning after the attacks, and as of yesterday morning, Trish Dale still had two or three people on hold at all times. The Web site has received about 70,000 hits, Allan Dale said.

During the weekend, a line often snaked out of the office and around the side of the house as people showed up, desperate to buy flags. Workdays used to last from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but in crisis mode, the Dales and combinations of their seven employees have worked from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days.

"I've had a ball with the flag business until last week," said Trish Dale with a tired smile. "But this has been unbelievable."

Demand has greatly outstripped supply. The Dales sold the 200 or so residential-sized 3-foot-by-5-foot flags they had on hand within hours. They expect a shipment of about 1,000 more this week, but that will only begin to chip away at the 10,000-order backlog.

They also are to get about 20,000 handheld flags this week that they'll sell in bulk installments of 144. The Dales normally stock flags in all sizes, from the 3 foot by 5 foot, $32 in nylon and $39 in polyester, to the 12 foot by 18 foot, $327 in nylon and $445 in polyester, to the biggest, a 30 foot by 60 foot, $1,950 in nylon and $2,652 in polyester.

When someone asks for a flag now, the Dales say it will take six to eight weeks. They've posted this message on the Web site, where they do 97 percent of their business: "We are glad to see the outpouring of support for our country and for the lives lost. We are doing everything we can to provide United States flags for everyone; however, We are out of residential size flags and we are not taking any orders for stick flags. For anyone who has placed orders with us we will fill these orders as quickly as possible on a first come, first serve basis."

Many people who call have read the message but hope they might be the exception, Trish Dale said.

"People call and say they'll pay anything," Allan Dale added. "They'll tell us, `My wife said find a flag or don't come home tonight.'"

Flag retailers across the region and country report similar outages. Name the store -- Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target or whatever -- and it's been stripped bare. Flag retailers couldn't say how many stores in Maryland specialize in flags but a search of directories found about 15 independent flag shops.

"It's kind of strange to think that we're making a lot of money, because something so sad happened," Allan Dale said. "Who would have ever thought we would profit off of something like this? We're just trying to be helpful."

Dale said he started selling flags partly because he thinks America is the greatest country in the world, and he has long been enamored of patriotic symbols.

He and his wife described their business, which grossed about $1 million last year, as steady before last week. They have regular corporate and military customers and can come up with flags with anything from the national seal of Namibia to breeds of dog on them.

Stacks of thin blue boxes with red and white stripes pack their garage. Flags adorn everything from shirts to the office clock to the neck of their dog, Starbright. On the property, they have two tall poles, one flying the American flag and one flying the Maryland flag, and shorter poles flying flags that advertise the business.

The Dales sold real estate for 25 years. In 1990, they happened to drive by a house in Maine with an array of 15 flags waving in its yard. Curious, Allan Dale, a former Marine, rapped on the door and asked about the display. It turned out the residents ran a small flag shop from their home. They became mentors for the Dales, who were tired of peddling houses. Flags remained a side venture for a while, but quickly grew into a full-time occupation after the Dales bought the flags.com address.

They are typically busiest in May and June around Memorial Day, Flag Day and leading up to the Fourth of July, but now they have as much demand in an hour as they normally would in a day during those times, Allan Dale said.

Business is up 100 percent for September, compared with last year, and could be up 80 percent for the year. The shipping boxes stacking up in the driveway reveal demand from all corners --Fort Worth, Texas, Jasper, Ga., Wallingford, Conn. A shipment went to Saudi Arabia this week.

The couple said they can't predict when the craze might abate, but said manufacturers won't be able to make as many flags as people want for at least a few months.

Asked if the country's desire for flags is gratifying, Allan Dale said: "You betcha. It gives off this spirit of `Let's get together,' and you better believe it feels good to be a part of that."

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