With Patriot’s Day kicking off a string of patriotic holidays, Derek Auclair is gearing up for the busy part of his year at the Gorham Flag Center. The family-owned business sells American flags, state flags and custom-designed flags. It also sells and installs flagpoles. The store was started by Auclair’s great-uncle in 1965 and passed down to Auclair’s father in 1994. Auclair, who has worked in financial services in New York City and in real estate in South Carolina, has been running the store since 2012.

Q: Presumably, American flags are your biggest sellers. True?

A: Definitely, U.S. flags are the biggest seller and we also sell flagpoles, which are big. We’re open year-round, but we’re a seasonal business, where the first quarter is definitely our worst. It’s actually amazing to see, we had a day in the 60s a few weeks ago and we were busy, then we had a few inches of snow and it was dead. When it’s warm, people are thinking of more summer things and getting out more. And, obviously, with the flagpoles and installations, we can’t do that in the winter.

Q: Was the seasonality a big surprise?

A: When I came back to run the business in January 2012, I had forgotten the jump (in business). It’s so quiet in January and February and most of March, you get nervous and do things like check if the phone is working or send myself test emails because there are days that are so quiet. Then one day it will just come falling in, with phone calls and all that other stuff. I see the numbers when I do the sales tax report and the spike in the quarters is amazing. It’s a sort of a shock to the system. It’s also a stress, even though we’ve been here 50-plus years, you get nervous because we’re not exactly Wal-Mart.

Q: Do you do custom flags?

A: We do. We’ve done stuff like family crests and then some other stuff that frankly I don’t know what they are, so I don’t ask. As long as we have the artwork, we can make the flag. There are some requests for historical Maine flags that I don’t think existed. The Betsy Ross (flag with 13 stripes and 13 stars in a circle) is a popular historical flag and then the Bennington flag (with 76 in the field with the stars) is a popular flag.

Q: Is it difficult to make a custom flag?

A: It needs to be in vector (a process used to convert an image to a computer graphic) and then we can transfer it over. It can get pricey, depending on the detail, but we can transfer anything over. If you come in with just a drawing, it can take about two weeks. Almost all of them are screen-printed, but we can do them as an applique, as long as it’s not elaborate. We just did the flag for the new Press Hotel (in Portland) and they wanted it appliqued.

Q: Do you make any of the other flags in your shop?

A: They’re all made in the U.S. and they come out of mostly Virginia or New Jersey. There are a couple of plants there that specialize in flags.

Q: What’s the biggest holiday for flags?

A: Memorial Day, because it kind of coincides with the beginning of summer. It happens to fall when people want to start getting their flags for their camps. And we do (pole) installations too, so we’re ready to go once the ground softens up enough.

Q: What does a flagpole run?

A: We have a 20-and 25-foot residential fiberglass poles. The 20-foot one is $550 and the 25-footer is $675 for the pole and all the fittings. Installation is about $250, depending on how far we have to go and the difficulty. Some people want it put in ledge and I’ve had to tell them we can’t do that.

Q: Do people know about flag etiquette?

A: I think there’s definitively been an uptick in interest in that. We have pamphlets on it and there’s a lot of what I would call “opinion” on what’s right or wrong. The common one is that the U.S. flag has to be bigger than other flags (in a grouping), but it’s really that the other flags don’t supersede it, like displaying them higher or bigger.

Q: Is it true that American flags need to be disposed of by burning? Do you do that?

A: They’re supposed to be burned and we take them here for disposal. And there will be (disposal) events, like the Boy Scouts or the American Legion will have a ceremony. A couple of weeks ago, they were doing an event to cut the stars out (of old flags) and give them to veterans.

Q: Does it upset you to see a really faded or tattered U.S. flag on display?

A: Yeah, but that’s a tough one. I’m surprised that people even put them up (in bad condition), but I’m not going to call someone and say, ‘Your flag looks bad.’ That seems a little self-serving.


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