Philly shop car­ries on Betsy Ross’ legacy

Humphreys Flag Co. pro­duces mod­ern and his­toric Amer­i­can flags

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

There may be no other city block in the world where more high-qual­ity Amer­i­can flags are sold than Arch Street, be­tween Sec­ond and Third streets, in Philadel­phia.

The Old City neigh­bor­hood was home to seam­stress Betsy Ross.

“We’ve moved many times but mov­ing across from the Betsy Ross House was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Matthew O’Con­nor, COO of Humphreys Flag Com­pany. The shop has been lo­cated at 238 Arch Street since the ‘80s.

Humphreys is the fourth largest flag man­u­fac­turer in the U.S.

“I would be shocked if there is a big­ger re­tail or­ga­ni­za­tion than us,” O’Con­nor said.

Many Philadel­phia visi­tors make the trek to the his­toric house where leg­end says Betsy sewed the first flag.

“They’ve got flags on the brain,” O’Con­nor said. “They’re in the neigh­bor­hood to see his­toric Philadel­phia, they walk out and here we are con­tin­u­ing the legacy of Betsy Ross.”

Flags are spe­cial.

When smartly folded above the grave of a sol­dier and pre­sented to a griev­ing widow, an Amer­i­can Flag in­stills pride and sig­ni­fies great sac­ri­fice.

Ev­ery­body in the bleach­ers knows when the check­ered flag is wildly waved for the win­ner of the In­di­anapo­lis 500.

Flags blow­ing in the breeze are great ad­ver­tise­ments.

O’Con­nor’s fa­vorite flag is a sim­ple and color­ful “OPEN” flag flown above a shop door.

O’Con­nor flies about 30 flags at his home. He talked about his fas­ci­na­tion with ever-so-color­ful flags made pri­mar­ily of ny­lon.

“I like to keep the neigh­bor­hood in­ter­est­ing, dif­fer­ent, ex­cit­ing,” he said. “It’s my way of be­ing part of the com­mu­nity.

“I’m con­stantly think­ing about flags.”

Humphreys as­sis­tant man­ager Nick Strauss en­joys work­ing at the flag store on Arch Street.

“It’s what we do for other peo­ple,” he said. “It’s so ex­cit­ing — there’s not a lot of places like this.”

Why flags?

“There’s a lot of his­tory and schol­ar­ship, a lot of in­for­ma­tion to think about—cur­rent events, ge­og­ra­phy and sym­bol­ism,” O’Con­nor said.

With the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and dur­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in July, busi­ness spiked. The com­pany has sold about 1,000 large DNC flags and thou­sands of smaller ver­sions.

O’Con­nor sells all 50 state flags and flags from ev­ery coun­try in the world.

Humphreys sup­plies the 109 na­tional flags lin­ing the Ben Franklin Park­way. Each ban­ner is changed twice per year. He said it’s easy to make mis­takes.

Some­body once no­ticed that two sim­i­lar flags, from Lux­em­burg and the Nether­lands, were la­beled in­cor­rectly and hung out of al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der.

“I can def­i­nitely be wrong about flags but it doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten,” O’Con­nor said with a smile.

A rec­tan­gu­lar flag has four quad­rants. The blue field and stars of an Amer­i­can flag are lo­cated in the first quad­rant. This quad­rant is lo­cated along the hoist end, or where the flag hangs from the pole. The op­po­site side is known as the fly end.

The sec­ond quad­rant is lo­cated on the fly end, at the top. The third quad­rant is lo­cated di­rectly be­low the first, and the fourth lies be­low the sec­ond quad­rant.

Flags of­ten change. The United States flag started off with 13 stars. Humphrey’s sells each of those dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can Flags.

“Flags from dif­fer­ent parts of his­tory are cool,” O’Con­nor said.

The color of one na­tion’s flag re­cently changed slightly. Humphreys sells both the old and the new. Some cus­tomers are nos­tal­gic, while oth­ers pre­fer the cur­rent ver­sion.

The Humphreys fac­tory in Pottstown spe­cial­izes in mak­ing cus­tom flags. The com­pany em­ploy­ees 16 work­ers. The busi­ness pro­duces flags for many pro­fes­sional ma­jor sports teams, in­clud­ing the four Philly teams.

Humphreys re­con­di­tioned all the his­toric Yan­kee pen­nants hang­ing in Yan­kee Sta­dium.

Since the 1860s, Humphreys has made flags in sev­eral lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing New York City.

Qual­ity is key.

“We don’t de­pend on vol­ume sales like we did in the old days, “O’Con­nor said. “We fo­cus on the higher end prod­ucts — a higher qual­ity of raw ma­te­ri­als, with more at­ten­tion to de­tails.”

Flags are po­tent na­tional sym­bols. Our Na­tional An­them was writ­ten about a bat­tle-scarred flag.

I was once asked to help change the flag hang­ing above the car­il­lon bell tower, at Wash­ing­ton Memo­rial Chapel, in Val­ley Forge Na­tional His­toric Park.

From high above, with the Amer­i­can Flag in my hands, I looked down to where Wash­ing­ton’s troops spent the win­ter.

Since then, I’ve sung the Na­tional An­them just a lit­tle bit louder.

Whether it has 13 or 50 stars, noth­ing bet­ter sym­bol­izes Amer­ica than our flag.

BILL RET­TEW JR. — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Matthew O’Con­nor, left, and Nick Strauss take a break from sell­ing flags, at Humphreys in Old City, Philadel­phia.

BILL RET­TEW JR. — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

It’s all about flags at Humphreys, lo­cated across the street from the Betsy Ross House.

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