When Beeze Tees Screen Printing opened its second retail location in Manchester in February, owner Tim Pipp wanted to buy a vehicle for the business to transport products between the new store, the company’s production facility in Marlborough and its storefront in Keene.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Hampshire, and the prospect of such a big investment vanished about as fast as nearly all of Beeze Tees’ business, Pipp said. Instead, the company has been using Pipp’s personal Jeep to move T-shirts and the other promotional items it produces back and forth between Manchester and the Monadnock Region.

“We’re making it work for the time being,” he said. “It’s a temporary fix.”

So, when Pipp’s mom, Nancy, sent him the information for Inc. Magazine’s “Small Business, Big Impact Contest,” the grand prize for which is a new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van, he figured he would apply. And now, Beeze Tees is one of four finalists for the contest.

The contest, which Pipp said drew more than 4,000 entries nationwide, seeks to honor businesses and organizations that pivoted their operations to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Beeze Tees, which had to temporarily lay off almost all of its 17 employees early in the pandemic, that meant moving from printing T-shirts to making masks.

“When COVID hit, masks were kind of in demand and hard to come by, and we configured a way to make masks on our embroidery equipment,” Pipp said. “So, business was down and the need for these masks was very high, so we started making masks.”

The company sold about 5,550 masks, and donated another 1,000 to first responders and other essential workers in the first few months after the pandemic arrived in New Hampshire, Pipp said, allowing the company to begin rehiring its staff members. Beeze Tees still sells masks through the special website Pipp created, thetshirtmask.com.

The winner of the contest will be selected by popular vote on the Inc. Magazine website. The voting is open until Oct. 23, and individuals can vote up to five times per day. For a link to the voting website, visit the Beeze Tees website at beezetees.com.

And while Pipp said he certainly wants to win, he’s already excited about the level of exposure the contest is bringing not only to Beeze Tees, but also to the small business community throughout New Hampshire.

“I’m really excited to be a finalist, but I’m really excited for my staff, my company, our city and our state,” he said. “... This isn’t about Beeze Tees or Tim Pipp or anything like that. This is about our community.”

Pipp also admits that Beeze Tees faces steep odds against the three other finalists: Downtown Boxing Gym, a nonprofit after-school academic and athletic program in Detroit that has taken most of its programming online during the pandemic; Gang Free Inc., a nonprofit in Henderson, N.C., that has been providing food for about 14,000 people per month over the past several months; and Who Dat Barbershop in New Orleans, which has been offering free haircuts and donating food throughout the city during the pandemic.

“They’re such good stories, they’re such good people,” Pipp said of the other finalists. “And I have a really long road ahead if we want to win. And we need all the help that we can get. I think they’re all three very deserving organizations or businesses. I think we are, too, but we have a real tough competition here.”

Pipp was originally scheduled to travel to the Inc. 5000 Conference in San Antonio from Oct. 21-23, where the winner of the contest would have been announced. The event will now be held virtually, but the winner will still be revealed Oct. 23. And regardless of the outcome, Pipp said making it this far is already good for the entire business community in the Granite State.

“This is really for our community,” he said. “This is a win for New Hampshire, this is a win for Keene, this is a win for Manchester. ... This is a good win for small-town New Hampshire, and I really do believe that.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.