Flags flying off store shelves

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

American flags were selling fast on the Kenai Peninsula even before Thursday's U.S. House resolution urging citizens to display Old Glory in response to terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

By Friday, flags were difficult to buy.

"I've been to Fred Meyer. I went to Safeway. Now I'm at Beemun's," Soldotna's Laura Grimmer said Friday morning.

She planned to visit smaller stores, but she said she was losing hope of finding a flag.

"I think I'm going to make one. It's important that we show our support in any way we can," she said. "It's just that it's affected the whole world, and that affects me. My heart goes out to the people that lost loved ones. It happened on that side of the world, and it could just as well have been here."

Beemun's started selling flags as soon as it opened Tuesday, said clerk Pat Hill. By 10 a.m. Thursday, its supply of about 40 flags was sold, including two sets of American and Christian flags that had been in the store for about eight years. Customers had bought the American flag banners and the patriotic bows Beemun's carries for parade floats.

"Even the little sandwich picks are gone. Jersey Subs bought all of those. Charlotte's bought all of our pins," Hill said.

"People wanted to buy the flags in our flower pots, but those are not for sale," said coworker Kathy Zufelt. "Yesterday, there was just a flood of people looking for anything red, white and blue."

Friday morning, Beemun's still had a few flag stickers and patches. Zufelt said she had 10 calls for flags in the first 20 minutes the store was open. She picked up three spools of ribbon and started making red, white and blue bows.

"I always knew my bow-making talent would come in handy," she said.

In the parking lot, Soldotna's Tim Elder cut lengths of red, white and blue ribbon, then tied them to the antenna on his Suburban. He said he had heard the flags were gone and figured anything red, white and blue would serve.

"I'm sad. I want to show my support. It's hard for me to even talk about it," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. "I thought of all the folks over there. I think of our leaders. I hope they make the right decision and hunt those people down. ... I hope the flags will at least show my concern. I've always been a patriotic person. I've always been disappointed when patriotism is not as open as it used to be. This is bringing it out."

Big Kmart in Kenai sold its entire stock of about 500 flags Tuesday, said manager Jim Crist. He did not know when Kmart would have more. Nationwide, Kmart stores sold nearly 475,000 American flags Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, said spokesperson Julie Fracker, in Troy, Mich.

"That's a dramatic increase over what we'd have in a typical year," she said. "We have a half-million flags on order."

Those already have been manufactured, she said, but the disruptions to U.S. commercial air traffic have made it difficult to ship them to Kmart stores.

Joan Seaman, assistant manager of Jo-Ann Fabrics in Soldotna, said her store sold its last American flags Tuesday afternoon.

"Then we started with the ribbons, and we do have some patriotic fabric left from summer sales," she said.

Still, customers are crying for flags.

"We've had phone calls all morning, since 8 o'clock," she said.

She did not know if or when the company's warehouse in Cleveland could send more.

Terry Rahlfs, director of Fred Meyer in Soldotna, said his store already has sold the few dozen flags left after Labor Day. Fred Meyer stores in Anchorage were asking if the Soldotna store had any spare flags. Rahlfs said the company's Portland, Ore., headquarters ordered flags from New York on Tuesday and expects a shipment Monday.

"Fred Meyer will get them to our stores as quickly as it can, regardless of the cost," Rahlfs said.

However, the disruption to air traffic may make shipping difficult.

Zufelt referred customers to the VFW in Soldotna after Beemun's flags ran out.

"We sold more flags (Thursday) than we have all year. It was incredible," said Sue Singleton, VFW canteen manager.

The VFW sold 25 or 30 flags ranging from 5 to 7 feet long, she said. It gave away about 20 dozen small flags suitable for flying from cars.

"We went through just about all our flags," she said. "I got online yesterday and ordered six dozen little ones and 10 big ones. The flag companies are out. They're having to wait a few days so they can make more to fill orders."

She said there was so much demand that it took her 15 minutes to log onto the national VFW Web site.

Friday morning, the VFW received a shipment of about 12 dozen small flags, and Harry Barnes, senior vice commander, found about 50 more small flags stashed in the VFW building. He said the VFW likely would give those away.

The Peninsula Clarion and the Kenai Chrysler Center have been giving away red, white and blue ribbons since Thursday, when the Clarion published an American flag poster with the morning paper. By noon Friday, the companies had given away more than 3,000 ribbons, and customers still were taking them as fast as a half-dozen people could tie them.

Back at Beemun's, Hill was impressed with the show of patriotism.

"It's really neat to see people that maybe don't agree with each other pulling together," she said.

VFW's Singleton agreed.

"It's a proud day. I think everyone who came and got a flag is very patriotic," she said.

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