Giant American flag flap flutters on; business owner rallies

STATESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The reality television star who has said he would go to jail before removing a huge American flag from his recreational vehicle store in North Carolina promised a visit to the site Thursday to show support for employees who’ve been dealing with fallout from the controversy.

Marcus Lemonis announced the trip to Gander RV on Wednesday, saying he wanted to meet with employees “frustrated by the distraction” caused by the flag, which violates a city ordinance regulating banner sizes.

“I’m trying to be sensitive to the kind of chaos created for the team,” he said.

Lemonis, star of CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit”, said Wednesday that he would go to jail before he’d remove the flag, which measures 40 feet by 80 feet (12 meters by 24 meters) on a 130-foot (40-meter) flagpole. The city sued the company earlier this month because the code limits flags to 25 feet by 40 feet (7.6 meters by 12 meters).

Not long after Lemonis threw down the gauntlet, Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh issued a statement Wednesday saying he had asked the city’s planning department to change the dimensions allowed for flags displayed in a highway business zone.

“If passed, this amendment will permit the flag currently displayed at Gander RV on I-77 to continue flying,” the release said. Kutteh said the matter should be resolved at the department’s meeting on July 15.

But that’s not good enough for Lemonis. The chief executive officer of Camping World, which owns Gander, said he wants no restrictions on the size of an American flag, provided neither it nor its pole poses a safety hazard.

Treva Miller, who works for a school system near Gander RV, said she doesn’t understand why the flag’s size is such a big deal.

“It’s a flag,” Miller said. “It’s not hurting anyone. It’s not doing any damage. I’m not really sure what the controversy is.”

Daquane Messier, who’s opening a new hookah lounge in Statesville, said he was rooting for Lemonis “because a win for him” as a business owner “is a win for me.”

“Let them fly the flag,” he said. “It can be a Confederate flag. It can be a neo-Nazi flag for all I care. You fly it. Because everyone has the freedom to express ourselves.”

Lemonis’ attorneys were planning to file a response to the city’s lawsuit. Lemonis said Wednesday that the response would cite First Amendment free-speech protections as well as a North Carolina law that prohibits size restrictions on official governmental flags except when necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare.

Gander’s original permit application, filed in June 2018, said it was erecting a 40-foot-by-25-foot flag, which complied with the city code. In September 2018, Camping World informed the city of the flag’s actual, larger dimensions, the city said in a statement.

Lemonis took responsibility for the application. “I’m the one that did it,” he said Wednesday. “I never agreed to that size. The city just told me that was the size.”

As “The Profit” on TV, Lemonis invests in failing businesses and tries to turn them around. Regardless of the amount of his investment, he always tells the owners that he’s “100 percent in charge.”

Categories: National News