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New York — Major retailers are halting sales of the Confederate flag and related merchandise after the shooting deaths of nine black church members in South Carolina refueled the debate over the flag’s meaning.

On Tuesday, Sears Holding Corp. said it would begin removing Confederate flag merchandise from its website as did the online retailer eBay. Sears does not sell Confederate merchandise inside Sears or Kmart stores.

The announcements follow that of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which said that it would remove all Confederate-themed items from its store shelves and website after the shooting suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, appeared in photos holding the flag.

However, companies that make Confederate flags and Confederate-themed products say that sales have already begun to surge and they have no plans to stop producing them.

“I don’t sell the Confederate flag for any specific group, I just sell the flag,” said Kerry McCoy, owner and president of Arkansas’ FlagandBanner.com. “This is America. Everybody has a right to be represented whether you are a history buff or a nut.”

McCoy said her company expects to sell about 50 of the flags over the next week. That’s about half of what they typically sell in a year.

Pete Van de Putte has seen a similar run at his business, Dixie Flag Manufacturing in San Antonio, Texas.

“Any time there is a controversy about any flag, we sell more flags,” he said. “It’s not like selling tires or washing machines.

“When people come in here, they’re buying their national pride, their ethnic origin … so people are naturally passionate about the product.”

Both McCoy and Van de Putte say Confederate flags represent a tiny slice of their overall business, especially compared with American flags.

“I’m not here to judge who does what with their flag, I’m just here to provide for America,” McCoy said.

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