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Chicago Flag Manufacturer Flies Again After Warehouse Fire

By Casey Cora | February 26, 2013 6:54am | Updated on February 26, 2013 10:28am

McKINLEY PARK — As demolition crews continued tearing down the remains of a warehouse that caught fire last month in spectacular fashion, Mike Olson walked through the inside of his business next door, a custom flag company housed in a century-old building.

“Basically, the smoke wiped out everything we had,” said Olson, 49, of Midlothian, while showing off what used to be the Advertising Flag Co. showroom at 3801 S. Ashland Ave.

The business is slowly getting back to normal after the Jan. 22 fire, which blew out the building's northern windows, triggered its 101-year-old sprinkler system and filled all three floors with thick smoke.

"If it was really windy, we would've lost this entire block," he said.

Olson estimated the flag company, which has been the family business since 1936, lost about three weeks of work as inspectors and restoration specialists assessed the damage.

But the shelves are getting restocked, the showroom has moved to makeshift new digs, and the seamstresses and crew — a mix of 17 seamstresses, designers, printers and office workers — is back to work. Olson's brother, Doug, runs the printing department and his wife, Kathy, manages the seamstresses.

On its website, Advertising Flag Co. sells more than 50 versions of Old Glory. It also offers pirate flags, Confederate flags, rainbow flags and Iraqi flags. There are flags for sports teams and others for yachts.

The company also makes flags for a wide variety of corporate clients, including Hyatt hotels, The Field Museum of Natural History and Major League Baseball team,s including the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs.

Right now, the company is focused on manufacturing City of Chicago flags, “because that’s been our most popular," Olson said.

As he walked up a few flights of stairs at the building, Olson recounted the night of the devastating fire, how cops incorrectly told him the building was "toast" and how much works lies ahead for the family business. 

Up on the roof, he looked past the crumbling brick skeleton of the demolished warehouse next door and toward the city's skyline.

"We never got that view before the fire," he said.