THE GULF AND UTAH

War-influenced buying has produced a rush on products as diverse as cable television and bulk foods, but general consumer interest seems stifled by the Persian Gulf fighting, retailers say.Consumers flooded flag and fabric stores Thursday, put in more orders than normal for cable-television service and stocked up on food.

But shopping-center traffic was down by up to 20 percent at Mesa's Fiesta Mall, compared to the third Thursday of January 1990.

"We noticed the traffic drop-off on Saturday," said Janice Olson, mall manager. "No sooner had Congress voted to allow the president to declare war in the Middle East than it happened."

Citizens bought flags to show their feelings, vendors said.

"Things picked up in August, but this week has been unreal," said Sharon Larson, manager of All The Kings Flags of Phoenix.

"One lady said, `We just have to do something,"' Larson said. "So she picked up some lapel pins and some decals."

The store also carries Iraqi flags but has sold only two since August, but The Flag Shop at Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix reported a run on Iraqi decals and patches. Co-owner Sid Ishmail said his shop was down to only a few Iraqi keychains.

"It's hard to figure out," Ishmail said. "Iraqi stuff sells better than Kuwaiti stuff. I don't understand why, because our government is out to liberate Kuwait, and we should be buying Kuwaiti symbols."

There was no mixed signal from cloth stores, which said yellow ribbon - traditionally used to signal the displayer's hope for the safe return of loved ones - was moving briskly.

Cloth World of Glendale was out of its wide swaths of yellow ribbon, and Hancock Fabrics of Phoenix ran out of bright yellow and resorted to selling a lighter shade.

Dimension Cable reported calls from people requesting immediate hookups so they could receive the all-news network CNN.

One woman said, "I want CNN tonight. My husband's over there." A Dimension official said the cable company sidestepped its usual three- to five-day wait for service and installed cable at the woman's house Thursday, less than 24 hours later.

The war also prompted a run on bulk foods, said Rande Grover of the Grover Co. in Mesa.

He said the surge of interest included some Mormons, whose religion recommends keeping a year's supply of food in each household.

"I'm not getting masses of people who are afraid they'll get nuked," Grover said. "It's people who believe they should have a year's supply of food on hand but suddenly realize they are not prepared. The war has piqued their consciousness."

The extra business started in August but really picked up in the past two weeks. Grover said he had sold about $10,000 of foodstuffs per day for a week - about double his sales volume of January 1990.