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Flags still wave, but sales fall from peak

Emblems of patriotism and blood donations were popular last fall. Code enforcers still ignore the showy displays.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2002


Emblems of patriotism and blood donations were popular last fall. Code enforcers still ignore the showy displays.

SPRING HILL -- Jose Torres wanted a flag.

Not just any flag, but a big, bright, beautiful American flag to shine all night on Spring Hill Drive and remind Hernando County of its freedom that also shines through the night, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

So Torres bought a 4- by 8-foot sheet of plywood, meticulously measured and shrank the dimensions to scale, drew the flag, painted it and strung it with Christmas lights, one bulb for each star. It took him a week to build. And he has never taken it down.

"A year passed already, but it seems like yesterday. So many people died, all those civilians going to work in the morning and not coming back," said Torres who lives at 1390 Autumn Road. He erected the display along his back fence, which faces Spring Hill Drive.

Although quite a few American flags continue to wave over houses and from cars, the patriotic symbolism that surged in the weeks after the terrorist attacks seems to be waning. Displays of patriotism -- flags, blood donations, small memorials to those who died in the attacks -- have gone down or been ignored.

"People used to have a lot more out, but it seems that lately, it's gotten old," said Frank Vulpis, who has kept a display of red, white and blue Christmas lights around his palm tree as well as red, white and blue artificial carnations in his front yard at 1426 Deltona Blvd.

Vulpis served in the Army and Marine reserves, as well as the New York City police and fire departments. But he felt most compelled to keep up his display, he said, to honor the sons of friends who died in the World Trade Center.

Many stores that sell American flags and paraphernalia throughout the county say sales have fallen.

Joni Industries, which sold about 150 flags a day in late September and October, now see sales no better than the months preceding Sept. 11, 2001, said president Gus Guadagnino last week.

"It's almost like there's no difference," said Guadagnino, whose best sales are garnered from loads of flags sold from his satellite office in New York. "I guess we've developed into a society where we grieve and then decide let's get on with our lives."

However, sales are strong for a $2 T-shirt he designed that rings of a more current patriotic memory. It states, "One Nation Under God Forever," referring to a ruling by a federal appeals court in California that the phrase "under God" in the pledge was unconstitutional.

Few Hernando county residents who crowded blood donation centers as a sign of their patriotism returned for subsequent blood donations, said Lucy Coburn, Hernando County branch manager of LifeSouth blood center.

Even Hernando County code enforcement director Frank McDowell III, who has traditionally flown a flag in front of his house, has not noticed any problems with overzealous flag displays.

Code enforcers are still ignoring an ordinance that prevents businesses from flying excessive numbers of flags, like the dozens currently posted in front of the Mitsubishi dealer on U.S. 19.

Last year, the commission amended the ordinance, saying displays of American flags should not be regulated during the postattack national emergency order, which has remained in effect.

"We haven't been doing anything with the American flag, as far as commercial businesses are concerned," McDowell said. "I like displays of patriotism, anyway."

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