September is usually a quiet time at our flag store. Summer is over and anyone needing to replace a faded flag or who had dreams of adding a flagpole to their yard had already done so. In 2001 my husband, Patrick, and I had just been married so it was a great time for us. We had casual days at the store and plenty of time in the evenings to do some work around our new home. Life was good.
I remember driving into work the morning of September 11th and hearing on the radio about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I had a feeling of uneasiness about the whole thing because it just seemed so odd. I couldn’t wait to get into the store and tell Patrick, who had left before me that morning to run some errands. I arrived and Patrick had already heard the news. As I was opening the retail portion of the store I heard on the radio about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. I got a sick feeling in my body. I ran into the back of the store to tell my husband and we both sat down for a minute to think about what all of this meant. Patrick went out to get a small TV so we could be aware of what was going on and get up-to-date new reports. We then heard of the Pentagon also being attacked. What was happening was surreal.
It was quiet in the store and the City of Concord became still. We had no customers come in or call. We sat glued to the TV still unaware of what our role in this tragedy would be. A few hours later our retail doorbell rang and we had a customer come into the store. A woman, distraught and crying, came in and said she needed an American flag. She couldn’t believe this was happening to our country. I didn’t know how to comfort her because I needed comforting myself. As Americans we all needed some comforting. She left with her flag seeming somewhat stronger than when she came in. I will never forget my interaction with her and the renewed patriotism that was about to sweep the country. For Flag-Works, she was just the beginning. Within an hour, we had a line in the store and out the door. Patrick and I weren’t quite sure how to handle the crowds. People came into the store to choose a flag then proceeded to the end of the line, even if it was outside our door. There was no time for policing or mistrust on our part. People were coming in as Americans and we had to trust that they acted in good faith. Our phone, too, was ringing off the hook with people trying to place orders to be shipped. Our large catalog and flag internet business was distracting us from helping those in front of us, the people of Concord. With a limited supply of flags in stock we decided it was most important for us to take care of Concord first. We put a message on our answering machine and on our website telling people we weren’t currently able to take phone or internet orders.
For 5 days the routine stayed the same. Arrive at the store 1 hr before we opened (there would already be a line outside the door by then) and stay through until the evening hours, working straight through. We would leave to go home and feed our dogs, grab a quick bite to eat and head back in to clean the store and get re-stocked for the next day. When we finally arrived home late at night we would watch the news (at this point we had no time for our in-store TV) to see the day’s developments and hopefully get a few hours sleep. Our honeymoon period was most certainly over! We brought in extra help and tried to order as many flags from our manufacturers as we could. You see, it was off season for them too so there weren’t many flags in the warehouses to go out. In our store the line remained long yet people waited. It was interesting to watch what happened between people, some with a 30-45 minute wait, to purchase their flag. After completing their purchase, many would exchange hugs or handshakes with those next to them in line that they got to know. It was truly amazing to see what happens when people stand together as Americans. There were no differences between us, we were all Americans and that is what mattered.
After about 5 days we ran out of flags. For that matter we ran out of anything red, white and blue! We put signs on the door saying we were out but people still stopped in to see for themselves. When our first re-stocking truckload arrived a few days later word got out quickly. Local radio stations picked up on it and made an announcement that we had just received a shipment. This continued every time we ran out, which was every couple of days. Many times people would be waiting by our door and when a truck pulled up with more flags, they’d help us unload. It wasn’t just Flag-Works that was out of flags, there was a national shortage. With only 2 embroidery houses in the entire US making star fields for flags, the flag manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand. This cycle continued for months.
The show of patriotism on and after September 11th was remarkable. There were American Flags flying everywhere. We united together as a country using our flag as a show of unity. Since that time, flags have faded and so has the show of patriotism. Everyone seems to have gotten back to putting their differences first. I hope that this September 11th we all remember the feeling we had 10 years ago as a united country. Sure, there will always be differences among us, that’s what makes this country so great. It’s the place of importance that we put those differences that makes or breaks our strength as a country.