New Program Is A Win-Win For Small Businesses, Customers

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With restrictions on restaurants and retail stores because of COVID-19, many local businesses have come up with creative ways to remain open. Annapolis-based clothing company Signature Teamwear created the People Helping People Project (PHPP) with these small businesses in mind.

Signature Teamwear supplies over 30 restaurants and corporate businesses in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties with T-shirts and other clothing. Partners Art Gauthier, Scott Gauthier and Ezequiel Cembalo saw the impact of COVID-19 on their clients and knew they had to do something. In April, PHPP was created as a subset of Signature Teamwear.

While many existing programs were donation-based, PHPP sells packages containing gift cards, T-shirts and face masks.

“For $25 you get a T-shirt, you get a gift card, you get face masks, and that value is about $40,” said Art Gauthier. “So, the customer gets a great value, the business owner gets a little bit of immediate cash flow, and we as a small business get business on the manufacturing end. It's really a win-win-win situation.”

PHPP is sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation and AT&T. These sponsorships allow Signature Teamwear to produce face masks for the customer at a low cost. In the first shipment, 600 face masks were delivered and over 1,200 T-shirts were made.

“The coolest thing I've found from the feedback I’ve got is that the restaurants feel comfortable because they aren't just holding their hand out and asking for help,” said Art. “Even though their good, loyal customers would bend over backwards for them, here the restaurants and shops feel like they are giving something back to their customers.”

Many local businesses have taken advantage of the PHPP program, including Cafe Mezzanotte and The Cottage in Severna Park.

“Any promotions that we can be a part of that engage the public and offer ways for them to support local businesses is more important now than ever,” said Cafe Mezzanotte owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis.

Cafe Mezzanotte raised over $1,000 to pay its employees. This money will allow the restaurant to continue to operate the organic market, seafood market and butcher shop during the pandemic.

“It's a partnership that helps my restaurant and staff, as well as the uniform company that we partner with, Signature Teamwear,” Koukoulis said. “Small businesses working together is a beautiful thing.”

Susan Gauthier, owner of The Cottage, said she was drawn to the program because it benefited her customers.

“I was offered many programs like this where customers could donate to us, but this one was special to me because we were also able to give back to our customers,” said Susan. “We gave a $15 gift card for each T-shirt purchased, that our customers will bring in to use at our grand reopening.”

Susan said she is overwhelmed by her customers’ response to PHPP and looks forward to thanking them in person when The Cottage reopens.

As for PHPP, it will continue to work with businesses affected by COVID-19 until the pandemic is over, but its members are looking forward to expanding their programs in the future.

“It was created during COVID-19, but we’ve already had multiple discussions about the next thing,” said Art. “We created this because we wanted to go on and help. Right now, this is the thing on everyone’s list, but I see this expanding into many different things.”

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