- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

LOS ANGELES Americans are apparently not satisfied with merely flying the flag from their cars and homes in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They want to see red, white and blue almost everywhere, even in their bedrooms.
"I personally have observed customers in our stores asking for red, white and blue bedding," said Alison Norton, general merchandise manager for Eddie Bauer Home stores. And Eddie Bauer will give it to them, stocking new lines of patriotic-themed fitted and flat sheets, along with an array of items in flag motifs, from quilts to T-shirts.
Stores of almost every type report that virtually all items with patriotic themes have suddenly become a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.
Stores feature high-end golf sweaters embroidered with Old Glory. Baseball caps and running shorts come in the same style, and there are even breath mints with red, white and blue flecks. Most stores report the new lines are selling fast, paralleling record sales of gas masks, guns and bomb shelters at survival-oriented stores.
Many companies selling the red, white and blue goods are contributing a healthy share of the profits from these items and others to relief efforts.
Nordstrom stores, for example, were due to start a chainwide sale today, with 1 percent of all sales going to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund and the company pledging a minimum $1 million donation.
The firm rushed new flag-themed products to its stores for the sale, including belts with enamel-and-rhinestone flag buckles, star necklaces and earrings, plus red, white and blue toe rings. Flag watches and scarves are due soon in the upscale department store.
Some firms are donating higher percentages of their proceeds. The Cutter & Buck clothing retailer, which quickly created a "Stars and Stripes Collection" of hats, golf shirts, sweaters and other types of clothing, has pledged 15 percent from sales of these items toward relief funds.
"We feel good we're making a charity item," says the firm's spokeswoman, Lori Bauer. "We are not trying to capitalize in any way, shape or form."
Even toy stores are getting into the act. Children can make flags for free at any Toys 'R' Us or Kids 'R' Us store, with the company donating $1 to relief funds for each flag made. The chain also gives away a workbook called "First Aid for Feeling," to help parents and children cope with the attacks.
"Someone asked me, 'What if 5 million kids draw flags?'" said Warren Kornblum, executive vice president of the firm. "The answer is that will be the happiest check I've ever authorized, if it happens."
The entire patriotic-goods fervor is something retailers have not seen in the modern era.
"It's an outpouring unlike anything we've ever experienced," said retail analyst Tony Cherbak of the Deloitte & Touche consulting firm.
But he and other analysts don't expect the patriotic buying fever to help merchants much in the nascent Christmas shopping season.
"It's going to be a much more rugged season this year than we've seen in the past," said Mr. Cherbak. "I expect the gifts will be much more economical in nature … and the mood will be toned down, too."
While the National Retail Federation says the patriotic buying fever might help some stores, the group estimates it won't be enough to counteract massive layoffs and other effects of the attacks. So the NRF late last month cut its sales-growth forecast for the fourth quarter of this year nearly in half, from 4 percent to 2.2 percent.
Those glum holiday forecasts are probably one reason stores are hustling to create and stock as many flag-themed goods as possible.
No one knows how long the national fervor will last. But some are betting it will persist at least for months. Stores like Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer report already are ordering large stocks of red, white and blue stuff for their spring lines.

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