95-year-old Philly Shop Finds Salvation in Making Masks

95-year-old Philly Shop Finds Salvation in Making Masks

Fleishman Fabrics on historic Fabric Row in Philadelphia has adapted to the economic challenges of COVID-19 by staying open as an essential business. [Photo Credit: Bobby Brier]

(PHILADELPHIA) — A fabric store on South Fourth Street in the heart of historic Fabric Row has adapted to the economic challenges of COVID-19 since the lockdown began in March by selling the materials needed to make masks.

Fleishman Fabrics, a family-owned business for three generations, supplies Philadelphia’s clothing makers and creative community with cloth needed to make their designs, store co-owner and operator Joshua Fleishman said during a recent email interview. 

When the pandemic began, the fabric store had to adjust their approach. “From the early onset of this pandemic period, we were fortunate to be a part of an industry that was called upon to help produce and supply products (masks) to help our city and the nation, “mask up” and help to begin the process of protecting one another from the spread of Covid-19,” Fleishman said. 

Pennsylvania has 152,868 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. Homemade fabric and cloth masks should be worn by the public to save surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers and first responders, according to the website. 

Seeing the immediate need for cloth masks for the general public, Fleishman Fabrics jumped into action. “We filed an exemption with the state of Pennsylvania to be considered an essential business carrying the supplies for both the dry cleaning industry and for large-scale and small-scale mask making efforts,” Fleishman said. “That exemption was approved within days, and we actually did not ever close since the onset of this pandemic in March.”

To meet the demand, the small business stocked up on cotton fabric, elastic and interfacing, Fleishman said. The store does not have a website, so they relied on word-of mouth, phone calls, emails, and social media. 

“We did our best to show our interior and selections to customers with photos and in-person, with rolling carts and window displays,” Fleishman added. 

The store continued selling fabrics and elastics for mask-making beyond July and throughout the rest of the summer. People continue purchasing custom-made masks, especially reusable cotton masks. 

The fabric store was able to adapt and survive, in part by expanding their sales beyond local customers on Fabric Row. “Our outreach, even beyond Philadelphia, grew during the pandemic mask making boom of March-June,” Fleishman said. 

Fleishman hopes the website will be completed by the end of this year and appreciates the patronage of his Philadelphia neighbors. “We have worked hard to be here for them and to make their experience as safe, easy, and affordable/enjoyable.”