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ACCENTS : Flag Days : They celebrate fall colors, spring flowers and a host of holidays. The ones that people fly from their homes these days are downright playful.

November 19, 1994|MARESA ARCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Flying flags and banners to draw attention to store sales or upcoming municipal events is a time-honored tradition. Old Glory can be seen waving from houses as well as public places on every national holiday. But these days, flags and banners are being used in new ways: They are swaying in the breeze outside homes, an everyday sight welcoming the seasons and marking holidays.

The decorative flags add color and motion and seem to say that someone in a pleasant frame of mind lives here. Once a specialty shop item, the flags are also now for sale in department, hardware and even drug stores.

Flag sales started strong in the Southeast, eventually catching on along the West Coast and then the rest of the country, according to Tom Michero, sales manager for Windsport Inc., manufacturers of decorative flags, banners and windsocks in Austin, Tex. "It's not just houses along the beach, but neighborhoods all over that are hanging decorative flags," he said.

First offered 14 years ago, flags and banners for the home were slow to catch on but are now the firm's biggest sellers, Michero said. Windsocks are also a hit, he said. "We got the idea from the celebration of Boys' Day in Japan, which has been going on for thousands of years," Michero said. For that celebration on May 5, every male member of a Japanese household hangs a special windsock outside the home.

"We put an American spin on it by making our windsocks very colorful and designed for all sorts of American seasons," he said.

Initial sales were slow. People did not seem to know what to do with these kite-like socks that floated in the breeze. But as they began to appear on more and more houses, sales started taking off.

"People are always looking for new decorative accessories for their homes. As the windsocks gained in popularity, we started adding flags and banners to our line," Michero said.

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Cathy Kent, owner of Kites Etc. in Newport Beach, said it took a while for her customers to come around to the flags and windsocks she sells. "It's funny, we opened the kite shop about seven years ago and carried the flags, and they just did not move," she said. "We put them away and then brought them out again about two years ago, and they started selling like hot cakes."

Kent attributes the change in public attitude to the few people who did hang the colorful decorations outside their homes. "People saw their neighbors hanging these flags and came in a bit confused as to why they were doing it. Once they learned it was just for decoration, they too started buying them. Now it's about 65% of my business."

The decorations are usually made of nylon and come in myriad colors and designs. Every holiday from Halloween to Cinco de Mayo is represented. Seasonal flags and banners with sunflowers for summer and cornucopias for fall are available. Hobbies are also well represented.

Renee Pinel has a flag depicting a sailboat hanging from the eaves of her Silverado Canyon home. "I got it about four months ago," she said. "It caught my eye because my husband and I have a sailboat and it's our main hobby."

So far she is pleased with the added touch the flag gives to her home. "I just wonder if it will survive the Santa Anas," Pinel said.

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Jeryl Vonesh of Costa Mesa changes the flags on her two-story house with the seasons. "I wanted to add a decorative touch to the house, something personal." Each holiday has its own flag, and there is one she hangs for her children's birthdays.

"We've also given them as gifts, which is great because you can keep adding to someone's collection with each season," Vonesh added.

She has tried several flags in different price ranges but recommends staying away from the bargain basement variety. "They tend to fade out really quickly and become frayed."

The cost of banners, flags and windsocks vary widely with quality, size and complexity of design. They can range in price from $3 to more than $50.

Virginia Defendorf and her husband, Ed, started selling the three styles of outdoor decorations alongside their kites at the Orange County Marketplace in Costa Mesa three years ago.

Because their overhead is low, they are able to sell the decorations for $3 to $20. "Being an outdoor market we can get away with selling at wholesale prices. We will also do mail orders for an extra $2," she said.

"It took a while for them to catch on, but now we have a great call for them."

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