He has tried selling his remaining stock of more than 50,000 flags via a Web site but so far hasn't found many takers. Though Glasberg said he knew demand couldn't possibly continue at last fall's frenetic pace, he blames cheap imports for torpedoing what could have matured into a profitable sideline.
Flag vendors said their summer sales are shaping up to be the strongest since the Persian Gulf War and probably will be elevated for years to come as a new generation embraces the colors.
No one tracks domestic flag sales, and the industry is notoriously secretive. Still, Fred Bretzloff, president of the National Independent Flag Dealers Assn., said that his company's revenue this season is up 50% from last summer and that many of his group's members are reporting similar increases.
"I've sold three truckloads of in-ground poles since 9/11 and thousands of porch flagpoles," said Bretzloff, owner of Yankee Doodle Flag Co. in Toledo, Ohio. "Flags eventually wear out, and people are going to keep buying replacements."
Like all members of his association, Bretzloff carries only American-made products. It's a decision that cost him plenty in the post-Sept. 11 frenzy, when he sold out his inventory within five days and waited nearly two months for more stock. Foreign-made flags became widely available within a short time.
"Importers were flying them in by the plane load," he said.
Taking a Stand
Still, Bretzloff refused to carry them despite the tantalizing profit opportunities.
For starters, he is a veteran and Toledo is a blue-collar union town whose denizens might have hanged him from his own flagpole for selling imports.
But he also insists that all flags are not created equal. He said the traditional American suppliers do extensive quality testing to retard shredding and fading. His bestseller is a 3-foot-by-5-foot nylon porch flag whose stars and stripes are stitched rather than printed. That item retails for about $35 compared with less than $10 for a Chinese-made model that comes with mounting brackets.
Though he commends Southern California's garment makers for their entrepreneurial spirit, he said there is a lot more to flag-making than slapping a design on fabric. He said their quick entry in the bargain end of the business has put them squarely in the path of low-cost foreign producers whose products are sold mainly through discount chains.
"I can't imagine buying a foreign-made [American] flag, no matter what it costs," Bretzloff said. "But there are plenty of them out there."
He isn't the only one dismayed. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) was so incensed by the foreign invasion that in October he introduced the "Genuine American Flag Act" prohibiting the importation and sale of foreign-made U.S. flags.
That legislation has gone nowhere, and even staunch flag advocates such as David Martucci, president of the North American Vexillological Assn., an organization that studies the history and cultural significance of flags, said the United States must stand behind its own philosophy on free trade, even when it comes to imported flags.
What really irks Martucci and others is that some sellers may have tried to hide their flags' pedigrees to avoid consumers' wrath at a time of intense nationalism.
Like other textile products, flags must carry a country of origin label. Martucci said that at a store near his home in Maine a few months ago, American flags were being marketed as the product of a U.S. firm. Closer examination revealed that, although the distributing company was U.S.-based, the flags were manufactured in China.
He also has heard anecdotes about retailers and suppliers selling flags with no origin labels, or repackaging them in "Made in USA" plastic wrap.
None of those claims has been substantiated, however. And at least two of the nation's largest discount chains, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp., said all flags sold in their stores after Sept. 11 have been made in the U.S. But Martucci is skeptical.
"Everyone is denying [that they carried foreign-made flags], but the import figures tell the real story," he said. "All those flags didn't come into the country and just disappear."
All L.A.'s former flag makers know is that while others are profiting from the banner boom, they've had the wind sucked from their sales.
In fact, the biggest problem for Los Angeles apparel maker Masoud Rad is figuring out what to do with his unsold bolts of preprinted stars-and-stripes fabric--enough to manufacture thousands of flags.
Born in Iran but now a U.S. citizen, Rad said he has a profound respect for Old Glory, which to him represents freedom and opportunity.
Wary of running afoul of cultural taboos about defiling this most American of symbols, the president of CR&A Custom Apparel has opted to store the fabric rather than sell it at fire-sale prices or toss it into a dumpster to save space.
"If it's only worth a penny, I'm hanging on to it," Rad said. "No way I could throw it away. It's still the American flag, no matter how you look at it."