Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Demand devours flag production




By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Rita Howard and Jill Willoughby cut material from a continuous bolt of cloth at the National Flag Co.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        At the National Flag Co. in the West End, co-owner Artie Schaller Jr. says employees “could work double shifts right now and still not keep up with the demand” for Old Glory.

        Hader Hardware, which has 12 stores in Greater Cincinnati, is among area stores that have had trouble keeping the Stars and Stripes in stock since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

        And in Tristate communities from Hamilton to Price Hill, thieves are targeting American flags.

        A West Price Hill woman who reported the theft of her flag three weeks ago asked the Enquirer not to identify her because a neighbor had been threatened by one of the thieves as he made his getaway.

        “When I called police, they said a lot of people had been calling from

        Schiff Avenue (in Price Hill) to report their flags stolen,” the woman said.

        Such is the popularity of the symbol of patriotic pride.

        At the 132-year-old National Flag Co., Jill Willoughby is vice president of manufacturing and Rita Howard serves as art director for custom flags.

        On Monday, however, the two veteran employees could be found unfurling a 600-foot roll of red, white and blue polyknit, trimming away the side margins and separating the standard-sized American flags.

        “Once everything broke out, everybody just pitched in and helped with the U.S. flags,” said Mrs. Willoughby, as the 19-year employee smoothed the margins on the red, white and blue fabric. “It does make you feel good, like you're contributing in some small way.”

        Normally, it takes 2 1/2 to 3 weeks to deplete the company's inventory of American flags. However, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the wholesaler and manufacturer of flags and banners has been going through “anything red, white and blue” in two to three days, said Mr. Schaller, vice president of administration.

        For weeks now, a red and white sign on the front of the company's offices has advised passerbys: “Sorry! We are out of U.S. flags today.”

        The demand for American flags has prompted management to temporarily help with the production of Old Glory. Many of National Flag Co.'s 60 or so employees are putting in an hour of overtime on weekdays, and some workers plan to work Saturday mornings until the demand is met, Mr. Schaller said.

        National Flag Co. isn't the only one trying to keep up.

        Some Hader Hardware stores have flag brackets and flag poles on hand, said merchandise manager Mark Suder. Most have plastic yard signs with a picture of an American flag and the message, “Proud to be an American.” However, few have actual flags.

        “Whenever we do get some flags in, we're selling out of them in an hour's time,” said Michael Delaney, manager of the Erlanger store. “Right now, there's a high demand for any kind of American flag.”

        Mr. Suder said Hader Hardware is expecting a shipment of flags around Oct. 20.

        For now, workers such as Betty Fisher, a stick stitcher at National Flag Co., who routinely worked Saturdays during the Gulf War, says she'll continue to do her part for her country.

        “What makes me feel good is when you go out and see all the American flags flying,” the 60-year-old Harrison woman said. “I feel like I'm helping my country.”

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