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Providing the colors

Sun., July 4, 2004

As Eric Penney unfurls a Kenyan flag, he just grins about his first international business opportunity.

Penney is supplying about 600 flags to the 2004 Olympics. That’s three flags for every competing nation.

The flags, measuring 3 feet by 5 feet, will be flown from 10-foot poles within the Olympic Village, where the world’s fastest runners and other elite athletes will stay during the games in Athens, Greece, next month.

“There’s so much symbolism and patriotism behind a flag that it makes this a fascinating thing to be involved with,” said Penney, the owner of Murray Chemical Supply Inc., a small business that normally sells cleaning chemicals and equipment to schools and city government.

The business also sells American flags, and that led to an opportunity.

Penney learned that a California company called PPW Inc. was acting as a contractor for the Olympics and was accepting bids to supply flags.

Murray Supply, which Penney owns with his wife, Heather, won the bid based partly on the company’s existing relationships with flag manufacturers.

Each flag headed to the Olympics is made of a tough nylon material. The edges are hemmed and double-stitched. Grommets are made of brass and features in the flags, such as the 50 stars in the U.S. flag, are embroidered rather than silk-screened. The flags also are treated with a sort of sunscreen to prevent them from fading.

Last week, another batch of the flags arrived, each boxed separately.

The crew at Murray Supply, at 219 E. Third Ave., inspects each flag to ensure it’s correct, then repackages an entire set of 200-plus flags for shipment to Athens.

The deal isn’t a big moneymaker for the business. But Penney hopes it can lead to bigger, more lucrative flag contracts.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, conceding that he especially likes the flags of African nations because of their lively colors and national complexities.

“When you think about countries designing a flag, so much thought and care has to go into it,” he said. “It has to somehow represent everyone.”

Most flags are in the $30 range, although some unusual flags, such as that of Nepal, are more expensive.

And each flag has to be handled with care.

Whether it’s the American flag, or that of Kenya or Bosnia-Herzegovina, workers are careful to ensure they are kept off the floor and are folded carefully for delivery.


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