Page 3 of 6
Deborah Stitt doesn't talk about her politics. She's a patriot, pure and simple.
Her and her husband's storefront is barely the size of a two-car garage, thick with the smell of chemicals from the neighboring barbershop, but it's a dual enterprise. Before September 11, 2001, it was the home base for the Stitts' heating-and-cooling business, little more than a room for taking phone calls and filling out paperwork. After the attacks, the Lee's Summit couple wanted to do something to promote American pride. Deborah's Flag Store overtook the empty walls.
"We felt drawn to the business," she says. "Patriotism, flag flying, showing your colors through thick and thin."
Now the dim retail cube drips with red, white and blue. Deborah and Jim Stitt stock American-made flags, of course. Deborah pulls out one of the standard varieties — nylon, sewn stripes, embroidered stars. It was made right here in Missouri, she says. She opens the box to show off the certificate of authenticity.
There are also little flags, the size of postcards. Collapsible flags go with patriotic travelers. Telescoping poles available with some of the flags hoist the nylon up 20 feet — perfect for courteous sports fans who want to show their colors at the big game but don't want to disrupt their fellow Americans' view.
There's a corner for decorative flags and spinning pinwheels, items to gussy up gardens. Deborah flips through some of these flags, corrupted with pastel shades and scenes of picket fences, with a hint of condescension. "These decorative ones are for people who aren't sure about their commitment," she says, half joking.
Deborah is more of a traditionalist. Her grandfather served in World War I, and her father fought in World War II. Jim is a Vietnam veteran. At their home, they fly their flags year-round, observing the strict etiquette laid out in the 48-page handbook Our Flag. (It's on sale here for $5.) Deborah pauses, mentally assessing her front yard. "We probably have 14 or 15," she says.
That's not counting what she calls "the little patriotic man" holding a flag on the lawn. Or the flag reserved for camping trips. Or the stickers on their cars.
Right now, Jim's bumper displays the Gadsden flag, a recent hot seller. She points to a side wall displaying the yellow flags, each with a snake curled above the phrase "Don't Tread on Me." The Gadsden is in high demand for tea-party protests and among conservatives.
When talk turns to "Don't Tread on Me," Deborah starts to tiptoe into her own politics. When she went to the Lee's Summit Tea Party a few months back, she took along a U.S. flag on that telescoping pole.
She looks again at the Gadsden. "But now I'm so disgusted with the system, I'll probably fly this next time," she says.
Abel bounces through the door at Joe's Barbershop, looking smooth in his navy slacks and white polo shirt. He bypasses the front desk. He barely looks up at the regular customer getting a hot-towel shave.
Abel is only 4 years old, but he knows his man.
"They call me Tone," says the barber, Tony, working the back chair.
Tony honed his craft in the military, then at barber school. He's been at this shop, one of the only remaining businesses open in the dilapidated Metro Plaza, since 2007. He likes its laid-back, old-school feel — the classic red-leather chairs and the wood shelves where the craftsmen line up their tools of the trade.
It's the first week of school, and kids are quitting the classroom about this time. Abel is one of them; he just finished his second day of pre-kindergarten at the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium, a few blocks east on Swope Parkway.