Niche Market | Flags

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market will take a peek inside a different specialty store and showcase the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics
107 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

The official day to celebrate the stars and stripes is the Fourth of July’s little-known cousin, Flag Day, marked annually on June 14, to commemorate the adoption of the American flag.

But for one Manhattan business, every day is about paying homage to the American flag – and thousands of others.

"To us Americans, our flag represents our struggle for independence. It represents us coming together. It represents our states. It represents America and all the things that we're proud of about America," said Carl Calo, owner of Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics in Chelsea.

The flag warehouse and factory – which claims to have the largest stock flag inventory in the city — was established in 1916, the same year that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 Flag Day. (President Truman made it official by signing an Act of Congress in 1949).

But today, the business of making flags isn’t limited to sewing the ultimate symbol of American patriotism; the flag makers also churn out corporate banners that are draped from buildings throughout Manhattan and serve as the backdrops to junket photo shoots. Ace carries flags for more than 208 countries, and counts missions to the UN among its customers.

Most clients are institutions, groups or companies with a New York presence — everyone from Sesame Street to Fordham University to Cartier (they made the Christmas bow for 25 years, according to Calo).

Calo says one of the thrills of the business is walking around the city and seeing his work hanging from flagpoles. Individual New Yorkers commission custom banners as well—Calo said once a customer paid $800 for a huge flag emblazoned with his dog’s image.

Custom pieces can range anywhere from $65 and $5,000, but most fall between $500 and $1,200. Stock country flags are cheaper, between $18 and $70.

Marco Heredia, who mans the walk-in shop, says his personal favorite is the New York State flag (image below).

"I'm more fond of the New York State flag than the New York City flag because it's filled with more colors and is more vibrant than the NYC flag, which is just three colors—the blue the white and the orange. The NYS flag is mainly solid blue but with a beautiful background," he said.

Upstairs in the factory, Ebrima Camara, originally from The Gambia in West Africa, was snipping out wind vents for a martial arts studio’s large street banner.

"The favorite flag we do here is the U.S. flag, we do that constantly,” said Camara, who has worked at Ace for 20 years and hangs a U.S. flag at his home

The popularity of the flag is evidenced in the sales trends around major holidays. Calo, the owner, said there is a small bump in business before dates like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and 9/11.

In every box Ace ships with the American flag, Calo includes a pamphlet on proper U.S. flag-flying etiquette, also known as "the flag code."

For his part, Calo will be flying a U.S. flag in his yard on June 14, but he says that Flag Day tends to get short shrift.

“My guess would be that if you are not in elementary school, Flag Day is passed by without much notice,” he said. “However, Americans love their flag and celebrate what it stands for many other times during the year."

(Carl Calo, owner of Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics. Photo: Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

Interview with Carl Calo.

What's the difference between a banner and a flag?

There is a difference in my mind, but most people use the terms interchangeably. To me, a flag represents a country and it's single reverse, which means it's a mirror image on the back of the flag that's different from the front. And if you take a U.S. flag and you look at it correctly, the stars are on the left hand side. If you walk around, the stars will be on the right ...  but your mind corrects for it. A banner, many times if it's an advertising banner, it is double-sided because you want it to read correctly on both sides. In that case, we make two banners and we sew them together. So, basically, that's the difference between a banner and flag in my mind.

What are the different types of banners you sell?

You can call a lot of things banners. We do table fronts if you're having a little event in the park. You have step-and-repeat banners, which they also call meet-and-greet, where they take photographs and they'll put the sponsor's logos over and over again. We do a lot of those. We do location banners — the store's name and what they do in front of the store. We do parade banners — two people on each side and they march down 5th Avenue. We do a lot of different kinds of banners.

What's the proper etiquette to display an American flag?

There are several conditions under which you can display the flag and there are rules for each one. If the U.S. flag is going to be in a line with other flags, it has to be the one that's to the left, it can't be somewhere in the middle or at the end. If you're a U.S. citizen flying it in the U.S. that's the way it's supposed to be. If there are different levels, the U.S. flag should be at the highest level.

There is U.S., then comes the state, then comes the city flags. If you're flying them in that kind of order, again, the U.S. flag is on the left, followed by the state, and the next lowest is the municipality, and if there's an organization, the organization will come last, according to the pecking order. There are a lot of rules, I won't go into all of them, but I will send anybody a pamphlet or they can go to our website to see how to display it properly. 

The American flag is a best seller at this Manhattan-based flag-making company.
The American flag is a best seller at this Manhattan-based flag-making company. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Ebrima Camara and a coworker put the finishing touches on a large banner.
Ebrima Camara and a coworker put the finishing touches on a large banner. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Fabrics at Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics in Chelsea.
Fabrics at Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics in Chelsea. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Ace Banner occasionally still uses their old Singer sewing machines.
Ace Banner occasionally still uses their old Singer sewing machines. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
The New York City Flag.
The New York City Flag. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
The New York State Flag.
The New York State Flag. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Marco Heredia, employee of Ace.
Marco Heredia, employee of Ace. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Ace Banner sells flags from all UN member countries and makes custom flags and banners.
Ace Banner sells flags from all UN member countries and makes custom flags and banners. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
A tailor from Burkina Faso works on a banner.
A tailor from Burkina Faso works on a banner. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Ace Banner claims to have the largest inventory of stock flags in New York City.
Ace Banner claims to have the largest inventory of stock flags in New York City. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Carl Calo, owner of Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics company.
Carl Calo, owner of Ace Banner, Flag and Graphics company. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
of