IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - The CEO of Camping World says he’ll go to jail rather than remove a huge American flag flying over one of his company’s RV stores in Statesville.
Businessman Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit,” is the chief executive officer of Camping World, which owns Gander RV.
The flag in question measures 40 feet by 80 feet-- a size that Statesville officials say goes against a city ordinance. Now, they're suing the company because code limits flags to 25 feet by 40 feet.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Lemonis told The Associated Press he understands that Gander RV isn’t complying with the city’s ordinance, but he said the flag stays even if he’s jailed for contempt of court, and he says his attorneys have told him that that’s a real possibility.
“I would prefer not to. It’s not a super-favorable outcome. But that’s how big a line in the sand this is for me," Lemonis said. “If that is the result, I’m still not taking the flag down."
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His attorneys planned to file a response Wednesday or Thursday, he said. He plans to visit Gander RV in Statesville on Thursday afternoon.
"The property that's there belongs to us, we pay taxes, we've been employing people in the town for over 15 years and the size of the flag to me isn't hurting anybody,” Lemonis told FOX 46.
The city of Statesville asked the court to order Gander RV to comply with the ordinance earlier this month. The company refused and in the meantime is facing fines of $50 a day. The fines date back to October 2018, when the city says it advised Camping World that the company would be fined until the flag is replaced with a smaller one.
Social media posts are trending in Lemonis’ favor with comments such as one noting that Lemonis is an immigrant and U.S. citizen and saying he “has more pride in America and the flag than the city of Statesvilles’ representatives.”
Lemonis, who was born in Lebanon and adopted by American parents, said some people have told him on the phone that he should leave the U.S. “You’re not from here; you don’t follow our laws; get out of our country,” he said, quoting the callers. “People have opinions.”
Several people tweeted that they believe the controversy is really a marketing ploy.
Gander’s original permit application, filed in June 2018, said it was erecting a 40-foot-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.
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.”
Lemonis said his love of big flags dates to his childhood in south Florida, where he says his family flew flags at car dealerships they owned. “The flag was a very big symbol,” he said.
Now that’s he’s an adult with his own stores, “if there is a way to put up a bigger pole, a bigger flag, we will do it,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.