Jason Gieselman and Jacob Williams feel like they were made for this.
As the entrepreneurial duo watched many local businesses shutter their doors in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, it wasn't long before they came up with a plan to help.
Gieselman and Williams, co-owners of Ink Alley Screenprint + Design, felt it was their duty to support neighboring local businesses. So they did what they do best: Make T-shirts.
"I designed the shirt," said Gieselman, a Malcolm native who is the only designer at Ink Alley. "But it's not about the design, it's the meaning."
The T-shirt says "SMALL BUSINESS, BIG HEARTS" across the front, and all proceeds from sales of the shirts — more than $1,000 as of late last week — will go to local businesses affected by COVID-19.
Most of Ink Alley's customers are service-industry businesses, which are bearing a large portion of the economic brunt from the virus.
Beyond the funds being raised from the T-shirt sales, Gieselman and Williams are also working with their clients to create online stores, which would allow individuals to buy merchandise — much of it made by Ink Alley — from their favorite small businesses.
"We wanted to give our clients a way to generate revenue," said Williams, from Seward. "If they can break even and keep people employed, it's a win for us."
For him, it was clear that Ink Alley needed to help the local business scene.
"I honestly think that small business is what's going to flip the tide on how the economy adjusts during all this," he said Tuesday. "It will be the deciding factor."
But beyond that, there was no doubt in Williams' mind that they would try to help their fellow business owners.
"We've really become friends with a lot of clients," he said. "We all support each other, even if we're not all together."
While Ink Alley cranks out the shirts, Williams said he can feel the survival instincts heightening in response to the economic effects of COVID-19.
In some ways, he says, it's a little exciting.
"With this new mentality, I feel like we can kind of reset things," he said. "Things are getting shaken up and we're adapting."
Gieselman says the excitement comes from their shared entrepreneurial spirit.
"This forces you to be creative, you know?" he said. "Both Jacob and I were kind of made to deal with challenges like this."
Even though they are the ones offering aid, Gieselman and Williams are not without some worries in regard to their own business. While they're still getting some orders, there has been a clear decline.
The business supports six full-time employees and has cut down on working hours. And the employees are trying their best to stay 6 feet apart.
"We've got a little bit of a cash reserve so I'm not completely worried yet," said Gieselman, who started working from home two weeks ago. "We have a great staff that is completely self-sufficient without me and Jacob."
For now, both Gieselman and Williams are putting faith in their sense of community. And after almost five years of business in Lincoln, they are confident they will get through this period of economic hardship.
"It's simple: When our clients are successful, we're successful," said Gieselman. "There's no reason to believe we all won't bounce back."
Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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