Even as national retailers pull Confederate flags from shelves and websites after the shooting deaths of nine black church members in South Carolina, manufactures that produce the divisive symbol say that sales are now 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’ FlagandBanner.com. “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 they typically sell in a year.
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 that 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 say 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 racism to many, and southern heritage to others. The debate over its place exploded after the church shootings. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that the flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds.
While the Confederate flag represents 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, Texas. He said he has sold more flags in the last couple days than they would have typically sold over a couple of months.
“Any time 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 say 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 easily 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 flag pole 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 gets pressure she resists 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.
In the sports world, NASCAR’s sanctioning body backed Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the Charleston church massacre. NASCAR issued its statement Tuesday, the same day South Carolina lawmakers agreed to discuss removing the flag and one day after Haley said “the time has come” to take it down. And that is as far as NASCAR appears willing to go for now.
“As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity,” NASCAR said. “While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”
International Speedway Corp., NASCAR'S sister company that owns a majority of the tracks, echoed the sanctioning body’s response.
“We join NASCAR in support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s position on the Confederate flag,” ISC President John Saunders said in a statement. “ISC strives to ensure all fans are welcome to enjoy our events and maintains an inclusive environment at our facilities nationwide. ISC will continue our long-standing practice to prohibit the sale of Confederate flag material on our property.”
Nancy Benac, Joseph Pisani and Mark Long contributed to this story.