As retailers toss Confederate flag, producers’ sales surging

Kerry McCoy stands in Arkansas Flag and Banner in Little Rock.
Kerry McCoy stands in Arkansas Flag and Banner in Little Rock.

Even as national retailers pull Confederate flags from shelves and websites after the shooting deaths of nine black church members in South Carolina, manufacturers that produce the divisive symbol said sales are surging.

“I don’t sell the Confederate flag for any specific group; I just sell the flag,” said Kerry McCoy, owner and president of Arkansas’ “This is America. Everybody has a right to be represented, whether you are a history buff or a nut.”

McCoy said her company expects to sell about 50 of the flags over the next week. That’s about half of what it typically sells in a year.

Amazon, Sears, eBay and Etsy said Tuesday that they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their websites. Sears does not sell the merchandise inside Sears or Kmart stores.

A wave of merchandise bans came a day after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would remove all Confederate-themed items from its store shelves and website after the South Carolina shooting suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, appeared in photos holding the flag.

Other national retailers said they do not sell, or never have sold, Confederate items.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, asked about the retailers pulling flags from stores, said those are “decisions for individual businesses to make.” He added that the businesses’ decisions were consistent with the president’s position.

“We welcome those decisions, but obviously those are decisions that should be made by individual businesses.”

The red, white and blue Confederate battle flag represents racial discrimination to many and Southern heritage to others. The debate over its place has become more heated since the church shootings. Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that the flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds.

While Confederate flags represent a small slice of their business, those that produce them say they have no plans to stop.

Pete Van de Putte said sales of Confederate flags are surging at his Dixie Flag Manufacturing in San Antonio. He said he has sold more flags in the past couple of days than he typically would have sold over a couple of months.

“Anytime there is a controversy about any flag, we sell more flags,” he said. “It’s not like selling tires or washing machines.

“When people come in here, they’re buying their national pride, their ethnic origin … so people are naturally passionate about the product.”

Both Van de Putte and McCoy said American flags are their most popular products.

McCoy said most of the Confederate flags she sells are lower-quality items not meant to fly outside every day. She said residents of California buy the most of any state.

“They’re more for a dorm room or a gag gift,” she said. “I don’t know anybody that flies the Confederate battle flag on their flagpole outside their business. I mean, who would do that?”

Van de Putte’s inventory also includes novelty flags and banners from the military and countries like North Korea. He estimates that nearly every flag in his store could be seen as objectionable by someone.

Likewise, McCoy said she frequently is pressured to stop making gay-pride flags or even flags that represent political parties.

“I’m not here to judge who does what with their flag. I’m just here to provide for America,” McCoy said.

Information for this article was contributed by Nancy Benac and Joseph Pisani of The Associated Press.

Reader poll

Do you agree with Wal-Mart's decision to stop selling the Confederate flag?

  • Yes, because the flag represents racial discrimination 32%
  • Yes, because it's a retailer's right to decide what to sell. 15%
  • No, because the flag is a symbol of Southern heritage. 28%
  • No, but it's a retailer's right to decide what to sell. 24%
  • Other (please comment) 2%

830 total votes.

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