- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Many retailers are stocking up on September 11 collectibles, souvenirs and memorabilia and their customers are scooping them up in preparation for the commemoration of the terrorist attacks.

Business owners say customers are eager to buy American flags, commemorative pins of the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon, T-shirts stating "Osama-Yo Mama," or "Operation Enduring Freedom," and even a cap that lights up the slogan "Let's Roll," reminiscent of the months just after the terrorist attacks.

"Retailers saw an outpouring in demand for patriotic items like pins, flags and merchandise that demonstrate their feelings for what our country experienced," says J. Craig Shearman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "Now retailers are again seeing a resurgence of those sales as the anniversary draws closer."

Sales have been steady for the past year, and Fawaz Ismail, owner of Alamo Flag Co. in Falls Church, says they jumped 25 percent last month, particularly for 3-by-5-sized American flags and standard flagpoles.

"Everyone wants a flagpole or flag before September 11 to show their support and be patriotic," Mr. Ismail says. Part of the doubling of inventory at Alamo stores in Union Station, Pentagon City and the Post Office Pavilion comes from a higher demand for U.S.-made goods.

"You saw a lot of flags coming out of China that were cheap and had poor quality," he says. "More people say they're interested in showing their patriotism with a flag that has the correct etiquette."

Steve Currey, marketing assistant with Stockpins.com, an online pin manufacturer, says the company has boosted its production for pins that feature the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93, whose sales quadrupled the past two weeks.

"We sort of expected that people would want to show solidarity for the country by wearing a pin," Mr. Currey says. His Warwick, R.I., company is confident that it has enough stock to meet demand.

"Demand will likely trail off after the anniversary, but right now, people want to commemorate the strong feelings through something that's smaller and more subtle than a flag," Mr. Currey says.

At Union Station, the Made In America souvenir shop has posted a slight increase in sales on items that showcase September 11, but patriotic mementos are more popular, says store manager Linda Gross. "People want mementos that remind them of how our country has survived this terrible ordeal," Ms. Gross says.

One of the most popular items is a baseball cap with the slogan, "Let's Roll," that lights up in red. "That's been a big seller, and we're stocked up on it through the month," Ms. Gross says. "Most people are interested in our items, and we haven't received complaints about bad taste."

But other shopkeepers say such products are inappropriate, and have limited their display of commemorative items.

At Best of Washington D.C., a souvenir shop across the hall from Made In America, Monica Estevez, assistant manager, says low demand and worries of what was appropriate prompted the store to sell only one item with a September 11 theme a blanket featuring the photograph of the three firefighters raising the American flag from the World Trade Center wreckage.

"We have this one thing, and nobody has been really interested in it," Miss Estevez says. "A lot of people want souvenirs that say 'America,' but they don't want to be reminded of something that was a horrible tragedy." The store does not carry mementos or postcards of the Pentagon.

Barry Plott, manager of Post Expressions at the Post Office Pavilion, says the stamp collection store also has limited September 11 items to the Heroes of 2001 USA stamp, which the U.S. Postal Service issued as a semi-postal 45-cent stamp to aid relatives of the victims.

"We have a wide array of items on different war periods in American history, but we only have the Heroes USA stamp as something directly featuring 9/11," Mr. Plott says. "Our customers have shown more interest in patriotic symbols like the flag or bald eagle than commemorative stamps."

Bob Phibbs, retail industry consultant, says businesses risk alienating their customer base and outraging the public by offering items related to the attacks. "These retailers are running the risk of capitalizing on the misery and tragedy of victims," Mr. Phibbs says. "They're getting into a real gray area of profiting off of terrorists and stepping over the fine line of offering patriotic items by focusing on 9/11."

Attempts to trademark the attacks have been restrained, says Sharon Marsh at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Since late July, she says, the office has accepted about 124 applications for trademarks on slogans such as "Let's Roll," "Osama Bin Flattened," and "Operation Enduring Freedom."

The number is small compared with trademark applications for the millennium, which were in the 100,000 range.

Trademarks for "Let's Roll," 20 at last count, initiated an outcry from the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, a charity named after the Flight 93 passenger who uttered the phrase, prompting some retailers to work through the foundation to sell items.

Mr. Shearman says he expects most businesses to continue selling September 11 items the way they would any other product. "The public is going to stop retailers from becoming too outrageous in their products, particularly with 9/11 items, by simply refusing to buy them," he says. "But there is this big demand for patriotic items that allow people to show their support, pride and solidarity for the greatest country in the world, and somebody has to produce it and, yeah, make some profit for their work."

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