Editor’s note: This article was originally published online on Sunday, April 5 at 12 noon. It was updated later at 6 p.m. to include how Sawyer’s Screen Printing & Embroidery will begin offering masks for local residents via curbside pickup on Tuesday, April 7.
BETHLEHEM — Two local businesses, Dorsey Sign Company and Sawyer’s Screen Printing & Embroidery, collaborated to make over 50 free banners for neighboring small businesses, reminding residents they’re still open and to stay vigilant of COVID-19 symptoms. The latter also initially began making masks since mid-March for Westchester County, one of the hardest-hit state counties amid the pandemic, but local residents can start getting their own masks via curbside pickup on Tuesday, April 7.
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Varying banners, distributed in the past two weeks, have different messages like “Open for Curbside Pickup and Delivery” and list common COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and shortness of breath.
“It’s helped to create a stronger bond and unity among small businesses,” said Heather Dorsey, the owner of Dorsey Sign Company. “There’s always been a mutual level of respect as we all share the same hustle and struggles as small businesses. If anything positive has come out of this, it’s businesses working with one another. It’s really quite profound during a crisis like this.”
Businesses that received the banners — located across Bethlehem, Ravena, Coeymans, Albany, Coxsackie and Cohoes — include WildBird Junction, the Cask and Rasher, Perfect Blend, Twisted Vine, Emack & Bolio’s, Tool’s Restaurant, Swifty’s, Uncrushable Nutrition, Taj Fine Indian Cuisine and Losee Homestyle Deli.
Dorsey said that while most banners went to restaurants and eateries, “It’s important to not forget that other non-restaurant businesses need them too. People don’t always realize those are places that need traffic as well.”
Dorsey said she felt inspired to make the banners for free in mid-March because “we’re in crisis mode and lots of places won’t have the luxury of cash flow. Also, the COVID-19 signs can help prevent people, who possibly have it, from reaching for the door handle which could spread the virus more.” She had initially made discounted banners for $25 each shortly before the pandemic worsened in the Capital District; they normally cost $50 to $65.
“I knew I had the ink, equipment, production and state-of-the-art printers in-house,” Dorsey said. “But I didn’t have enough banner material as I’d only had a couple of old banner rolls.”
Robby Sawyer, the owner of Sawyer’s Screen Printing & Embroidery, said he was willing to donate banner materials to Dorsey and he reached out to her in mid-March. “My business does custom screen printing and embroidery in-house and while we offer banners, we don’t do them in-house but Heather does,” he said. “We had banner materials sitting here and I’ve worked with Heather before. I asked her if I can donate the materials for her to make banners and she thought it was a good idea.”
Dorsey expressed gratitude for Sawyer’s donations and noted both their businesses had received grants from the town’s Microenterprise Grant Program before the pandemic. Both said their grants allowed them to buy more equipment and machinery which helped ease the production of the free banners.
However, Sawyer said, “Normally, my business has six employees but we’ve had to lay them all off. Now, it’s just me, my wife, daughter and son who come in to work together. But it’s given us something meaningful to do, instead of just sitting around. It’s great to help people and we do what we can.”
The donated banner materials were enough to make over 50 free banners. Sawyer, his family and Dorsey coordinated the banners’ delivery to businesses that requested them. They also practiced social distancing while either putting the banners up or speaking with business owners who preferred posting them up themselves.
Dorsey brought up how she was putting up the banners for Perfect Blend and Twisted Vine and “many people driving by were honking and putting up peace signs in support. I looked at [Perfect Blend co-owner] Dan Casey and we thought it was so amazing. We’re all interconnected on a whole other level and it’s been moving.”
Although Sawyer and Dorsey ran out of banner materials and ink to make more free banners, they don’t feel ready to stop giving yet.
Dorsey Sign Company is offering 20-by-54 banners at a $25 discount with either banner tape or grommets to hang them; they can be installed indoors or outdoors. “Even when we ran out of Robby’s materials, I’ll keep printing while I can and keep an eye on my resources,” Dorsey said. “In the bigger picture, a banner is such a small gesture but to let people know that a business is still open is huge.”
For more information, visit www.dorseysignco.com, email at [email protected] or call 518-302-9339.
Sawyer’s Screen Printing & Embroidery has been making and donating masks, although initially for Westchester County. “There’s a shortage of masks down there and last week, we just sent 100 down,” Sawyer said.
According to the state Department of Health, there are 293 COVID-19 cases in Albany County and 13,081 cases in Westchester County as of Saturday, April 4.
His business has since begun producing masks for the local area too with curbside pickup starting Tuesday, April 7.
Sawyer said local residents have donated ribbons, shirts and money to his business to help fund and make more masks. “The mask is made out of an embroidery backing and a T-shirt which is OK for the public to use under the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines but it’s not meant to be worn by medical staff,” he added. “We want to make as many masks as possible until the materials all run out. I want to ask local shirt suppliers to donate shirts for us to continue making masks.”
According to the CDC, a facemask, unlike tighter N95 respirators that healthcare workers use, is loose-fitting, provides protection against droplets and helps prevent sick people from spreading COVID-19 when they cough or sneeze. However, a facemask does “not effectively filter small particles from the air and does not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales.”
Looking ahead, Sawyer encouraged the public to donate materials like shirts and ribbons to his business if possible, and for local businesses requesting a banner to contact Dorsey.
For more information, visit www.sawyershirt.com, email at [email protected] or call 518-272-0586.
Photos provided by Heather Dorsey and Robby Sawyer.