Maskmaker, make me a mask

Chad Frey
Alterations by Thelma added masks to the store's offerings, made on site, as COVID-19 began spreading in Kansas. Owners are not sure how a pending executive order from Gov. Laura Kelly will affect demand.

Thelma Adams is unsure if an upcoming executive order by Gov. Laura Kelly requiring mask use will help her business or not — but it surely can’t hurt.

The sign in front of her business proclaiming “Face Masks Sold Here” went up several weeks ago, when Alterations by Thelma and Tuxedo Rentals in the 400 block of E. Broadway needed a way to reopen and recover from losing the biggest days of the year.

“When we shut down, it was prom time,” Adams said. “That is my biggest time of the year. That hurt pretty bad.”

Prom, traditionally in spring, is when her shop does the most business in tuxedo rentals and dress alterations are in demand. For the 12 years she has been open, it has always been the busiest time.

The executive order, set to be go into effect July 3, will require most Kansans to wear masks in stores and shops, restaurants, and in any situation in which social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained, including outside.

“I know Kansans will have many questions about this order – and we will answer them when it is released later this week,” Kelly said Monday. “But by announcing the requirement today, people in our state will have the appropriate time to acquire the masks.”

According to Kelly’s office, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office will work closely with officials in Kelly’s administration to ensure the order complies with Kansas law.

Making masks was what allowed Adams’ business to reopen during shutdown orders at the state and local level. Adams, along with her sister and daughter, started making cloth masks to sell.

Business has been steady, though Adams said there is usually not more than one or two customers in her small shop at one time. Up to now, she has not regularly worn a mask in her shop but has worn one while out shopping.

And, she said, come Thursday she will be wearing one in her shop regularly.

There is a counter filled with masks of all different colors and designs, and that is what has pulled people back into her business.

“I go a little crazy at the fabric store,” Adams said. “So I have a lot of different masks. ... Fabric, some of it is real hard to find. I have to order sports fabrics, and even there, it takes a long time to get it if you do order it. Chiefs fabric is impossible to get right now. ... Everyone wants it.”

She said she knows others are making masks, including a network of volunteers that have been hard at work for months, well before there was an executive order looming to require mask usage.

But, she said, she has enjoyed making masks and adding them to the business this spring.

“It was a way to stay in business,” Adams said. “... It will help out my business, even though I don’t like the virus. I mean, even with the circumstances behind it, it has helped me.”

As people have begun to get out and about during the “phase out” period of stay-at-home orders in the past couple of weeks, more customers seeking alterations have trickled back into the business.

“Business has picked up and I have been kind of busy with alterations,” Adams said. “I was going to end up shutting down for a while, before they ordered the shutdown, because there just was not business coming in once they shut down the schools. Nobody was going out. ... This has kept my business going.”

Thelma Adams has enjoyed buying various fabrics to make masks to sell in her business, Alterations by Thelma and Tuxedo Rentals on E. Broadway in Newton.