This July 4, America will be celebrating its 242nd birthday.
Almost 250 years ago, our founding fathers met in sweltering Independence Hall in Philadelphia — then just the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress because, well, independence hadn’t actually happened yet.
After considerable debate and crafting of one of the greatest documents in the history of mankind, they told King George III that when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, we should probably just be friends.
Things seem to have worked out pretty well for us in the interim.
If you haven’t bought any birthday presents for Lady Liberty yet, it’s time to start shopping. Of course, a great present would be an American flag for your home or place of business.
However, you don’t just want to buy some mass-produced flag from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Not that we have anything against either store — we’re all for commerce here at Conservative Tribune — but you also want to buy a flag from a store specifically devoted to the values that made this country great: small business, patriotism and respect for Old Glory.
In that spirit, we’ve collected a few places where you can pick up a flag for July 4. Not only will you be able to fly it proudly, but you’ll be able to say you got it from one of the coolest places in America.
#1 Best Place to Buy a Flag for the 4th of July: Arkansas Flag and Banner, Little Rock, Arkansas.
A little bit of the American can-do spirit and $400 will get you a long way, at least if you’re Kerry McCoy. In 1975, the high-school graduate began a door-to-door sales business, living “the American Dream of entrepreneurship as she sold the most patriotic symbol of all, the American flag.” Today, 43 years later, she has a catalog, an e-commerce website, a magazine, a radio show and the coolest store in all of Little Rock.
How did she move from door-to-door salesmanship into a miniature empire that consists of “selling the American flag, made in America?” Well, part of it had to do with the fine folks at OPEC.
During the late-1970s gas crisis, going from house to house was too expensive, leading to McCoy turning to telemarketing. Her mother had some vacant retail property, so McCoy made her an offer: In exchange for making repairs and doing some paint, she could have the building rent-free for one year. Things took off from there, particularly given the patriotic boost that the 1990-91 Gulf War gave her business.
McCoy found Arkansas Flag and Banner’s current digs during her commute on the Wilbur Mills Freeway, which took her through downtown Little Rock. During her drive, she “noticed a stately old red brick building falling into disrepair.” It wasn’t just any stately old red brick building, though — it was the former site of the Dreamland Ballroom, a famous stop on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” where African-American musicians and entertainers could play back during the segregation era.
McCoy helped restore the venue — which once played host to the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Redd Foxx, Etta James, Louis Jordan, B.B. King and Sarah Vaughn — and the upstairs ballroom is now on the National Historic Register.
Oh, and that’s all even before we even talk about the flags. Trust me, they have plenty of them — including the stars and stripes, of course, but also the Arkansas state flag, historical flags, nautical flags and even some sports flags if you want to show some Razorbacks love (and trust me, there’s lots of Razorbacks love to go around in Arkansas Flag and Banner.)
And it’s not just flags in their showroom, either. Liz Johnson of Arkansas Flag and Banner told us they’re also branching out into “some accessories — some really cool jewelry, some really cool bags, interesting military gifts. It’s really a unique gift shop.”
As for the most gratifying thing about selling flags, Johnson says it’s the people who buy them.
“Flags are an emotional product. People have opinions about flags,” Johnson told us. “They conjure up feelings, they inspire people. And that inspiration boils over and they can’t help but share.”
If you want to make a pilgrimage, they’re at 800 W. 9th St. in downtown Little Rock, just off the Wilbur Mills Parkway. Come for the flags or the ballroom. Or you can order a flag online or subscribe to Brave, the official magazine of Arkansas Flag and Banner, or listen to McCoy’s “Up in Your Business” radio show.
#2 Best Place to Buy a Flag for the 4th of July: Advantage Flag and Banner, Newton, New Jersey.
Native New Jerseyans like myself always bristle at the common image of the state: One huge suburb broken up by beaches and preternaturally-tanned MTV reality stars.
There’s a lot more to it than that, after all — it got the moniker “the Garden State” because of the home-grown produce stands that dotted its roadsides. That produce had to come from somewhere, after all, and one of those somewheres is the rural enclave of Newton, nestled in the verdant northwest corner of the state.
That’s where you’ll find Advantage Flag and Banner, which has been in business for over 30 years — although it didn’t exactly start as a flag shop. Owner Glenn Gerard, who had a major in business and a minor in art, opened the shop back in 1986 solely as a sign-making concern after the company he was working with moved south to Florida.
Gerard stayed behind and, with the help of one of those newfangled personal computers, started designing custom signs. However, clients began to ask where they could get flags and banners for grand openings.
“I just decided at that point that would be a good thing to have on hand,” Gerard told Conservative Tribune. He rented a little place where he would sell the banners and then “broadened it out into American flags.”
Flags currently make up 20 percent of Advantage’s sales, but it’s not just Old Glory that you can buy in the Newton store. Military flags are also a big seller, with the Marine Corps flag leading the way in sales (Semper Fi!).
It’s not just flags and signs that Advantage carries, either — flagpoles, windsocks and spinners are also on the menu. So, if you’re in that part of the state — or want to visit and find out how the Garden State really got its name — visit Advantage Flag and Banner at 130 Newton-Sparta Rd. in Newton. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 to 5 on Saturday and 11 to 4 on Sunday.
#3 Best Place to Buy a Flag for the 4th of July: Surgi Midwest Enterprises, Joplin, Missouri.
Sure, there are a lot of places you can get an average American flag. They’ll sell you something you can fly off of your front porch and it’ll look great. We’re America, though — we go big. France has Peugeots. South Korea has Kias. We have the Ford F-150 — and woe be unto anyone who tells us that we ought to downsize. After all, when was the last time that you saw a Peugeot on I-80?
If that’s the way you like to think, 86-year-old Charles Surgi is your flag salesman.
Surgi, a Coast Guard veteran, retired from his Carl Junction, Missouri manufacturing company over a decade ago. However, he’s not one to sit around and watch the news. And he found his second calling when a part on a telescoping flagpole he had broke.
“I was a patriot. I was in the service,” he told the Joplin Globe. “I needed to order a piece, so I called the company that made it and got to talking to them and I asked them, ‘Well, do you have anybody selling these flags around here?’ ‘No.’ So I got to thinking about it and I became a dealer for them and had to buy 110 flag poles to be a dealer to start with. Well that was quite an investment, so I was going into business.”
“I wanted something to do, so I found that there was a market around here; and I was interested in flags and flag poles,” he added. “So I contacted a couple of companies and became a representative for Etter Manufacturing Co., a flag pole company, and Uncommon USA, which makes a flag pole that telescopes. You don’t have to use any halyards with it or rope. And I became a distributor for those companies.”
Normally, part of the problem with a flag that big or a pole that tall is that you have to dig fairly deep into the ground in order to install the whole setup. Not so much with Surgi’s flags, though — thanks to his manufacturing knowledge and a bit of American ingenuity. He’s come up with a portable cement base which weighs about 375 pounds that can keep your flag in place and can be moved to different locations.
He told us he’s only sold about 75 of them so far. “I’m just a local person here,” Surgi said when we spoke to him. “Because it weighs so much, I don’t really get out of the county to deliver these bases because of the freight situation.” However, he is looking for other flagpole salespeople or businessmen who might be interested in the idea.
Surgi has also given back to the community, too, having donated a flag and flagpole to the local recycling center as well as 525 desk flags for Joplin, Missouri schools after a devastating 2011 tornado.
Surgi doesn’t advertise, relying on word of mouth and his reputation; he doesn’t even have a website and we had to track him down via his sons at his old manufacturing company. Most of his customers end up driving by and seeing his signs and flagpoles and end up buying his wares.
If seeing is believing, you can see what Surgi Midwest Enterprises has to offer by heading three-quarters of a mile north of Stone’s Corner Pharmacy on Highway 43. Trust us, you’ll see the flags.
#4 Best Place to Buy a Flag for the 4th of July: American Flag and Banner, Clawson, Michigan
If you want the archetypal old-school shop to buy your flag, American Flag and Banner is your place. In fact, according to their website, they’ve been in business since the World War.
No, not World War II — World War I.
“Originating in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge on Fort Street in Detroit, American Flag & Banner was born,” their website reads. “Three moves later in 1980, American Flag & Banner found it’s current home in Clawson, Michigan. Now celebrating over 30 years in the same location, Clawson, SmallTown USA, with its great 4th of July celebrations was a perfect fit.”
However, even though they’ve been in business since 1917, they say their clientele is getting younger these days.
“We thought this business was dying, because people are getting older,” co-owner Bill Miles told the Oakland Press. “But we are seeing an influx of more and more young people buying flags. I think it’s a great thing.”
So, what makes it so special? The old-fashioned American value of offering a better product and better service.
“Our’s is a better flag,” Miles said. “(Other stores’) flags look identical at first. It reads the same way, with the same brand and same 100 percent nylon material, but the stitching is different.” The flags also have a year-long color-stay guarantee, which is certainly important in the inclement environs of Michigan. They also repair flags.
One thing the Miles family has noticed is that patriotism is contagious — and important for keeping a community together.
“We love when we spot a neighborhood that has six flags in a row,” said Bill’s daughter, Lizz Miles. “When you take your flag out, it encourages others to get their flags out as well. It’s an important thing.”
“All of our customers are patriotic Americans,” Jane Miles, Bill’s wife, said. “I think we have gotten two bad checks so far. We get reliable and good customers.”
Now, keep in mind that these are only a few of the places you can go to get a flag. If you’re not in the neighborhood of any of these places — and chances are that you aren’t, given the fact that we’ve grown from sea to shining sea in the past 242 years.
However, odds are that you have a Charles Surgi or an Arkansas Flag and Banner in your neighborhood, if you just take a look. Trust me, you’re going to find a place where patriotism is in style all year round, where both the flags and the attitude are all-American, and where you can count on getting something you’ll be proud to fly outside your house any day of the year — particularly July 4.
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