One local flag retailer quickly sold out its stock of Confederate flags, while another store owner followed the lead of several national retail chains in discontinuing sales of the flag after the racially motivated murders of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.
John Solley, who co-owns American Flag and Gift in Grover Beach with his wife, Bridgett Solley, said the couple went to bed June 17 — the evening of the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white gunman — and awoke the next morning to more than 50 orders for versions of the Confederate battle flag, the design most commonly known as the “Confederate flag.”
Orders poured into the couple’s online business, with most of the orders going to the South and Texas, Solley said. About 85 percent of the store’s overall business is online, while the remaining 15 percent is through its brick-and-mortar storefront in Grover Beach.
“It was similar to what happened on 9/11 (with U.S. flags),” Solley said. “We were sold out of those battle flags within several hours.”
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Dylann Storm Roof, who has been charged with murdering the nine parishioners attending a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, reportedly posted white-supremacist writings and dozens of photos of himself with Confederate flags online. The photos reignited national debate over the flag, which opponents see as a symbol of hate and oppression.
The South Carolina House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to debate removing the Confederate flag from its Statehouse grounds. In Alabama, four flags were taken down from the Capitol grounds on Wednesday. Efforts to remove symbols of the Confederacy are underway in other states including Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia.
In central San Joaquin Valley, multiple military supply stores have reported they are either sold out or were nearly sold out of Confederate flags and merchandise, according to the Fresno Bee.
Solley said he has sold about 58 battle flags since June 17, although only a small percentage of those were out of the Grover Beach store. He has also seen increased demand for other historical Confederate flags, and even state flags that feature the battle flag, such as the 1956-2001 Georgia state flag. (The state changed its flag to one without the battle flag in 2001 amid protest that the design was racially offensive.)
Solley has not been able to replenish his stock since he sold out of the items because his three manufacturers — Annin Flagmakers, Eder Flag Manufacturing Co. and Valley Forge Flag Co. — will no longer produce the battle flag, he said. If those manufacturers decided to once again supply him with the flags, Solley said he would continue to sell them.
“I don’t judge, and I don’t censure,” Solley said. “I don’t try to determine if someone deserves the flag they want or not. My job is just to provide them with the product they want, and to keep an open mind.”
Large retailers have reacted differently, with companies such as Wal-Mart, Target and eBay all announcing last week that they would no longer sell the Confederate flag or merchandise featuring the flag in light of the June 17 attack.
The owner of SLO Camp N’ Pack, a military surplus store in San Luis Obispo, said he has decided to discontinue selling Confederate-themed items.
“We decided that it would be the honorable thing to do to respect and honor those individuals that were murdered,” owner Nic Beem said, noting that the store had one Confederate flag in stock at the time of the South Carolina murders, and it has since sold that flag and does not plan to restock it.
Beem said Confederate flags have never been a top seller at SLO Camp N’ Pack — “We sell more Chinese and other countries’ flags than Confederate flags,” he said.
San Luis Obispo resident Lucinda Spooner — who identifies herself as mixed-race, with African-American and white ancestors — said she thinks the Confederate flag is more prevalent in the area than many people realize.
Spooner, who formerly worked at a business near the Oceano Dunes, said she often saw individuals with Confederate flags on the beach.
For many people, she thinks, the flag has become like a “fashion statement” and they don’t think of the history behind it.
“They just don’t realize what it means,” she said. “They don’t think that for many people, seeing that flag is frightening and uncomfortable. I’m just really glad that this conversation is coming up finally and people are talking about this.”