“I’m a very resilient person. That’s one of the key elements to having a business. You have to be resilient. And many times, you have to reinvent yourself.”
Isaac Zambrano is one of several store owners who has seen his business impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s also one of a few local business people who have found a new way to serve their customers. While his retail store, Soccer Warehouse (@SoccerWarehouseLB on Instagram), has seen a steep drop in business due to the cancellation of organized sports, Zambrano has helped stem that tide by selling custom masks.
As an employee of the Long Beach Unified School District for the past quarter century, Zambrano was able to use his connections to reach around 20-25 local schools and provide custom masks for them. Zambrano is also a Spanish teacher at Millikan High, where he’s been able to supply a large portion of his masks. He said the transition to customizing the masks was a natural fit for his existing business.
“It came about naturally because we already do the type setting, so it was a smooth transition,” Zambrano explained. “The most difficult thing was to find a manufacturing company that could make the masks, but once we got that down we were able to run with it.”
Elsewhere in the city, Alfie Reeves III, better known simply as “Fresh”, also made the transition to making masks. Already well-known for his unique brand of “Fresh Teez” (@FreshOneStylze on Instagram) sold frequently at Long Beach Poly sporting events, his transition to making masks happened early on in the current shutdown.
“It was mentioned to me early on in this pandemic crisis. Someone said, ‘You should do masks,’” Fresh recalled. “I just used my resources that I already have for different garments and started developing masks. Little by little, it blew up.”
Custom “Fresh Teez” have already been worn by several sports teams across the Moore League, but the schools started coming back for masks, as well. In addition to providing multiple mask designs at Poly–where he plans to have custom designs for the football and girls’ volleyball teams this fall–Fresh has also created custom masks for Jordan High, and even the employees at USC’s Keck Medical Center. While apparel sales have taken a hit in recent months, the masks have helped keep Fresh’s business flowing, but he says the new venture goes far beyond the bottom line.
“We’re doing our part to knock down the curve,” he said. “It’s way bigger than me, and you kind of realize that when you see people’s eyes and they’re telling you thank you … I can see they’re very grateful for me for providing protection not just for them but for their families.”
Fans of Moore League sports have probably already seen some of the custom designs from A Touch Of Cali (@ATouchOfCali on Instagram), run by Long Beach local Billy Brown. He made the move from hoodies and shirts into designing masks, and has had tremendous success selling to out-of-state customers looking to represent Long Beach all across the country.
“I know that of all the cities in the country, nobody loves their city the way Long Beach folks love their city,” Brown stated. “When I knew that we had to wear the masks, the first thing I thought of was needing to make some Long Beach masks. You have a lot of Long Beach people who have gone out of state; they’re in Dallas, Kentucky, New York or wherever, but they don’t want to wear that stuff, they want to represent Long Beach.”
Brown said he’s made mask designs for all of the Moore League schools as well as Marshall Junior High. He even created custom masks for Long Beach City College’s 2020 commencement. With one of his kids in college and another entering middle school in the fall, Brown says he will continue making masks for the community, especially students who may need them to return to classes safely.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when kids return to school, so I’m thinking already of having masks prepared,” Brown explained. “I’m going to focus on junior high school kids to see if they need them, the Pop Warner leagues, or whatever. I’m just thinking of every group that may need them–and everyone needs them.”