- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

USA T-shirts and patriotic polos are “flying off the shelves” at Stars & Stripes at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Sales of American flags are “fantastic” at Alamo Flags at the same mall. Red-white-and-blue dog collars and flag-themed pet beds are “very popular” at Petco stores across the country.With Independence Day just a day away and major combat in Iraq officially over, Americans are eager buy patriotic merchandise and show their national pride.The trend is evident in stores throughout the Washington area. It is supported by a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, which finds that more than 60 percent of Americans own U.S. flags, and almost half own patriotic apparel.Almost 13 percent of consumers say they plan to buy patriotic items this month, while 38 percent are unsure about future purchases.”It’s certainly no secret that Americans have been through a lot together in the last 18 months,” said Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman for NRF, a retail-industry association based in Washington. “Americans are eager to buy patriotic items because it shows a sense of unity, which is something that people want to convey.”With more than 86 percent of consumers saying they own some type of patriotic merchandise, Washington-area retailers are stocking their shelves full of red-white-and-blue items hoping to boost sales amid a tough economy.Kadri Ismail, owner of Stars & Stripes, said he decided to open a “Made in America” store last year, in part because of September 11. Sales have been so strong this year that he is staying open until July 16.”Beforehand, someone would be embarrassed to wear a shirt with an American flag on it,” said Mr. Ismail. “Now if you don’t, it’s almost like an insult.”Best sellers include military-themed items, a T-shirt with an “Old Glory” screen print and the “Iraq’s Most Wanted” deck of cards, he said.”It’s about being proud of where you come from and being proud to be an American,” said Mr. Ismail, who hails from Texas.Enthusiastic pet owners who want to get their dogs or cats in the holiday spirit can choose from a variety of patriotic items at Petco, a pet-store chain. Popular items include a star-spangled tennis ball, a red-white-and-blue doggie bandanna, and treat jars painted with patriotic paw prints, said Shawn Underwood, Petco spokesman.About 88 percent of Americans say they plan to celebrate the Fourth of July. More than half of all consumers have barbecue or picnic plans for the long weekend, and Washington-area residents are no exception.Luke Zupicich, manager of Target in Alexandria, said his customers are planning to take advantage of one of the first sunny weekends in months by having backyard parties and cookouts.”We’ve definitely seen a surge in both our patio and our grill business, as well as in our Fourth of July novelty items,” said Mr. Zupicich. “I think a lot of it has to do with the weather.”Wal-Mart also is luring customers with picnic baskets and beach towels, said Sylvia Pabon, assistant manager of the Alexandria store.”Anything red, white and blue is selling pretty good,” she said.The White family visiting from Iowa plans to celebrate the holiday weekend outdoors by attending the fireworks display and other events on the National Mall.”We’ll all be wearing our red-white-and-blue flag tees,” said Marsha White.

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