Consumers continue to buy stars and stripes

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Mortgage and Lending with Wallick & Volk Arizona's #1 Mortgage Lender NMLS #251674

Image: US currency (© Steve Allen/Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages)Consumers, stressed out by the economy and the upcoming presidential election, are nonetheless feeling patriotic enough to buy more flags this year.

Annin & Co., which calls itself the country's oldest and largest flag maker, expects sales this year to rise about 11%, spurred by a patriotic fervor brought about by the Olympics and what many observers expect to be an extremely close race for the White House, according to Mary Repke, the head of marketing for the Roseland, N.J., company.

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"Business is good for us this year," Repke said in an interview. "People are a little bit more into decorating their homes for the flag holidays."

Sales are not growing as rapidly as they were last year, when people were inspired to buy flags after the death of Osama Bin Laden and the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, she said.

Annin, which has been run by the same family since 1847, operates plants in Ohio and Virginia. In addition to Old Glory, the company makes historical flags such as the "Don't Tread on Me" Revolutionary War design favored by Tea Party supporters.

"We probably sold more of them last year than this year," Repke said.

Other big sellers include U.S. Marine Corps flags, state flags and those of foreign nations. The company also is the United Nations' principal flag supplier.

Though Annin and other flag makers pride themselves on making their products in the U.S.,  poles and other flag accessories are often made overseas because they aren't available domestically, according to the Flag Manufacturers Association of America.

The company, which employs about 500, including seasonal workers, makes about 3 million regular flags displayed on poles and 10 million stick flags annually. Its flags have flown during Civil War battles, the opening of Yankee Stadium in the 1920s and when astronauts reached the moon.

The flag business is "kind of recession-proof," according to Repke. It's easy to see why.

More than 60% of Americans described themselves as being "extremely proud" to be American and 25% said they were "very proud" in a 2011 poll conducted by CBS. Those numbers may change, given the often toxic nature of political debate on hot-button issues such as Obamacare and the economy, but they probably won't move much.

People interested in buying a flag for the Fourth of July can probably find a bargain. Retailers expect holiday sales to be less star-spangled than last year. A Visa survey found that people plan to spend an average of $191 to celebrate Independence Day, down from $216 a year earlier.

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