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Selling 'Quaran-team' T-shirts and Gratitude coffee: How St. Louis businesses are helping each other

Selling 'Quaran-team' T-shirts and Gratitude coffee: How St. Louis businesses are helping each other

From the Celebrate good: Stories of St. Louisans coming together, offering hope series
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April 11 was circled on Jared Williamson’s calendar more than a year ago, when the lead brewer at Schlafly proposed to his girlfriend and they started planning a spring wedding.

The reception would be at the Schlafly Tap Room downtown, where the couple had their first meal together. Guests would sip on a limited-edition IPA with notes of passion fruit and strawberry jam.

“Schlafly has a long history of producing a one-off batch of wedding beer for employees,” said Williamson. “Brewing started a month ago. Within a week of that, we knew things were not going as planned.”

The new coronavirus had arrived in St. Louis. The wedding was postponed. People stayed home. Businesses were closed; thousands lost their jobs.

But, Williamson thought, there might be a silver lining in those beer barrels.

The nuptial brew was canned and rebranded Side Work, to acknowledge folks who make their living in the hospitality industry. Proceeds from the $8.99 four-packs are going to the Gateway Resilience Fund, set up by the St. Louis Community Foundation to provide assistance to restaurant, bar and retail workers affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Businesses across the region — from breweries and coffee shops to graphic designers and silkscreeners — are using their expertise to create products that will aid displaced workers and help keep their own companies operating now that their normal workload has evaporated.

Sloan Coleman, owner of Tiny Little Monster, closed her Shrewsbury printing shop last month, leaving her 14 employees with a lot of time on their hands.

“I really went into overdrive,” said Coleman. “I thought, ‘How can we trickle a little money in the faucet?’”

Tiny Little Monster sets up web stores for many of its clients, designing logoed apparel, bags and water bottles for them to sell online. Coleman decided to invert that structure: Use the web store to offer just one item, a T-shirt, but for multiple businesses.

She contacted companies she had worked with in the past and told them to submit a logo, a shirt color and an ink color. She’d take care of the rest, and kick back half of the $20 shirts directly to them.

The campaign, #HereForGood, launched last month with 10 companies. In three weeks, almost 170 had climbed aboard what Coleman calls her life raft.

“I’ll paddle it as fast as I can,” she said.

By Wednesday, 3,400 T-shirts had been sold, generating $68,000 for yoga studios, hair salons, restaurants and Flying Tiger Motorcycles.

Coleman put the word out to other local print shops, sometimes with a cold call. It was the first time she had ever spoken to Andy Rudman, the owner of Shirt Kong in St. Peters.

He was eager to try anything to keep his remaining workers busy after laying off almost half of his staff of 22.

“It wrecked me,” Rudman said.

When Coleman told him about #HereForGood, he decided to launch a Shirt Kong version, which he dubbed “Support St. Chuck and the Lou.”

His campaign has been smaller, with 55 companies seeking shirt designs. By Wednesday, 600 tees had been snapped up, raising more than $12,000.

“We get that it’s not going to save your restaurant, but it’s something,” said Rudman. It keeps what he refers to as his work-from-home “Quaran-team” connected, sharing their slogan ideas via text.

A green shirt for the nonprofit tree nursery Forest ReLeaf of Missouri reads, “Protect your neighbors. Hug a tree instead.” A beauty salon gets a purple “Quarantine hair, don’t care.”

“We’re latching onto something that’s encouraging,” Rudman said.

Drea Ranek was motivated by the social hub #314Together to curate a collection of St. Louis-themed shirts, hats and stickers designed by her company, 2Lu, and other local artists.

“It keeps our minds and our bodies busy so we won’t be over in the corner panicking,” said Ranek. “It’s allowing me to stretch my creative legs and learn from these other artists.

All of the proceeds from #314Together gear are earmarked for the Gateway Resilience Fund, which has given away $640,000 in small grants since it was launched last month. It suspended applications Monday as it awaits more donations.

Kaldi’s Coffee will soon be cutting the fund a check. Its $20 Gratitude Blend sold 150 bags on April 2, when it was introduced, one of the highest single-day sales the Midtown coffee roaster has had, said marketing director Frank McGinty.

“We were trying to figure out how to do our part,” he said.

The company is also donating Gratitude to hospitals to give health care workers a stamina boost. Kaldi’s is a little over a week into its campaign but is already looking ahead.

“Does this continue after the COVID quarantine is over?” McGinty said. “There’s always a need.”

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