As of March 24, Beeze Tees Screen Printing had closed down both of its storefronts — one in downtown Keene and the other, a new location in Manchester.
By the beginning of this month, things weren’t looking any better for owner Tim Pipp of Keene, or for the six of his business’ 17 employees who were still working.
“There was one day where I went in and told everyone that it would likely be one of the last days we stayed open,” he said.
Pipp’s company is hardly alone in facing tough economic realities in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Confronted with their own financial uncertainties amid widespread furloughs and layoffs, many people are sticking close to home as they try to avoid the virus. And on March 26, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered in-person operations to cease at all businesses but those deemed essential.
But Beeze Tees found a solution to its work shortage in another shortage: face masks.
Whether the surgical variety needed for medical personnel and first responders or the cloth coverings the CDC recommends everyone don in public places where social distancing is difficult, COVID-19 has made masks scarce. People are even making their own at home for themselves or to donate.
With a few days of help from employees, especially from Production Manager Megan Allyn of Troy, Beeze Tees has repurposed its facilities and materials to make hundreds of masks per day.
According to Pipp, the embroidering equipment works similarly to giant industrial sewing machines. Plus, he said, “T-shirts are a good material to make face masks with, and we have plenty of those.”
He said the design file — a digital pattern that can be used by other machines — has been shared with more than 30 other companies across the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and Australia.
“People need these masks,” Pipp said, “essential workers, medical personnel, restaurant workers, UPS and postal service workers.”
The company began making the masks on Monday, and as of Thursday afternoon, had sold more than 2,000. Beeze Tees had also donated 150, and Pipp said he’s looking to at least double that number by the end of next week.
The masks are available online for $4 — which is what each mask costs to produce, according to Pipp. He noted that the cost is driven up by the difficulty in sourcing materials that are in high demand.
People can buy masks for themselves, or they can choose to donate them.
As of now, Pipp said, there is a three- to four-day turnaround based on the number of orders, and this might increase if orders start piling up.
In the meantime, he said the masks are helping protect people while keeping his own staff working.
“I wanted to keep my employees going and busy,” he said. “Plus, I don’t think we have to apply for unemployment now.”