U.S.-themed items are flying off shelves

Spirit: The Sept. 11 attacks had caused such purchases to remain strong, long before July Fourth.

July 04, 2002|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The red, white and blue Marshmallow Peeps Stars didn't last long on Wal-Mart's shelves in South Baltimore. Customers at Lowe's in Glen Burnie bought hundreds of begonias and impatiens done up in the nation's colors.

And you needed some luck finding a pair of patriotic-colored flip-flops in your size at the Target in Towson during the past few days.

This year, consumers have had more choices of red, white and blue products that won't necessarily end up in the clearance bin after today, a result of a continuing swell of patriotism since the terror attacks in September.

But when it comes to merchandising, Independence Day has also taken on the trappings of other major holidays, with people spending more time at home and throwing theme parties, according to retailers and analysts.

"I think you're seeing a bigger expansion of home decoration ... to even minor holidays," said Lori Wilking, a retail analyst with H&R Block Financial Advisors in Detroit. "I think it's part of capitalizing on patriotism, but at the same time a lot of people are spending more time at home."

While many retailers continued stocking the usual items, such as American flags, consumers were also treated to a greater variety of red, white and blue products that helped boost sales, analysts said.

"My clients are selling 15 percent more patriotic merchandise because of the terrorist attacks," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a national retail consulting firm in New York City.

"There's always sales of patriotic merchandise for July Fourth, but this is a special July Fourth. The country is at war ... that's driving the sale of this kind of merchandise."

The Wal-Mart in South Baltimore sold plastic-foam coolers with a flag emblazoned on their fronts, patriotic-themed candy and cookies, beach towels and disposable cups and plates for cookouts and picnics.

But the American flag is now almost a household staple, said store manager Paul Kram. In previous years, Wal-Mart might have put out displays of flags just before Memorial Day and Independence Day; now, the flag display is permanent, he said.

"Now, we sell them every week," Kram said.

Target Corp. had a line of red, white and blue clothing and goods as part of its "America Land" promotion - featured prominently just inside the Towson store's entrance - that began in early June and ends today. The discounter sold such patriotic apparel as T-shirts and bathing suits, as well as flying discs and skateboards - all created by designer Steve Sprouse.

Target had the promotion in the works long before Sept. 11, said Aimee Sands, spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based discounter.

"All merchandise decisions take place about a year in advance," she said. "We always sell patriotic merchandise, but this is the first year we had a high-end designer" come up with a line of patriotic products.

For the do-it-yourself crowd, arts and crafts stores have remained popular stops for patriotic materials.

At Michael's, an arts-and-crafts store in Glen Burnie, there has been a permanent display of red, white and blue supplies in the store since Sept. 11, said Jennifer Anderson, the store manager on duty. Ribbons, bunting and flags have been the big sellers, she said.

At Lowe's in Glen Burnie, assistant store manager John Wallace said that the patriotic flowers have been a big seller at the home improvement store. The store sold out of about 2,300 flowers and received a new shipment yesterday.

And flag sales at the store this year through March quadrupled, compared with the similar period in 2001, he said.

"It's the first time I've seen people buy them because they're American and not because they're having a pool party and they want a couple flags to decorate with," he said.

July Fourth festivities have also become a boon for bakers, as people hold more elaborate parties and cookouts.

New System Bakery, on West 36th Street in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood, has sold twice as many patriotic-design cakes, cupcakes, strawberry shortcakes and cookies this year, said co-owner Debbie Ruthke.

"If people had a brother or son in the military, it seems they want the patriotic theme" for their gatherings, she said.

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