Sales of American flags down this July Fourth at Grover Beach store

kleslie@thetribunenews.comJuly 3, 2014 

John and Bridgett Solley have been selling flags in the South County for 30 years. Behind them is the Betsy Ross 1777 flag.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A local flag store owner says his business is not seeing as many American flag sales this Fourth of July as it has in years past.

“It’s not as good as it has been before,” said John Solley, of American Flag and Gift of Grover Beach, “but we’re taking what we can get.”

Solley, along with his wife, Bridgett Solley, has owned and operated the flag store for 30 years. He attributed the recent decline in sales to the political environment, coupled with a still-recovering, post-recession economy.

“I’d say the government and culture we have is not really a flag-waving one right now,” Solley said, noting the company’s high point was right after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, sent Americans into a “buying frenzy” for American flags.

At that point, there was so much demand for American flags that Solley transitioned his business from mail-order to a brick-and-mortar storefront in Arroyo Grande, coupled with a newly opened online presence. During that time, the Solleys were processing orders for approximately 1,500 American flags per month, he said.

“It was a crazy time,” Solley recalled.

As those flags saturated the market however, demand slowly fell, and then when the recession hit in 2008, people stopped buying flags all together, he said. “I guess it makes sense — if you don’t have a job, you don’t buy a flag.”

Since then, Solley said business has picked up to the point that annual revenue is at about 70 percent of what it was pre-recession; he declined to elaborate. He employs four people at the store’s location on Highland Way in Grover Beach.

A vast majority of his sales are now online, not locally.

“California just really isn’t much of a flag-flying state,” he said, noting that he now sells about 700 flags a month, with roughly 80 percent of them going to the East Coast and Texas, where there is more of a “flag-flying environment.”

The Solleys also sell other types of flags including state, sports teams and holiday flags; these comprise about 40 percent of the business, he said.

Although demand for American flags has fallen this “flag season” — the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day — Solley said he hopes business will pick up as political climates change over the next several years.

“It’s just a sign of our times right now,” he said. “But everything is subject to change; we just have to be always looking forward.”

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