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Barriers for re-entry: St. Louis business pivots to make Plexiglas barricades

This company knows in order to come together again, we have to be divided

ST. LOUIS — It was supposed to be the busy season for Gateway Structures, making displays and exhibits for trade shows. 

“We were having our best year ever, in 20 years,” said company owner Rick Marchbanks.

But when those trade shows were canceled for the foreseeable future, so was all of his business. He had to let go more than 30 of his 40 employees and wasn’t sure what to do next.

“There’s no clear pivot, we all got together to brainstorm,” he said. “The first thing we thought about is what do we have that’s going to be a dead asset? There are no trade shows, so what can we do? We have a custom fabrication shop in the back where we do the signage, any kind of counter, special effects for trade shows.”

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Then, all of a sudden, the pivot was as clear as a Plexiglas barricade.

“When people come back to work, you’re going to need some protection and to feel safe at work, so reception counter shields, point of purchase shields, cashier shields, and so that’s what started all of this,” he said, gesturing to a prototype mobile screen they designed with restaurants in mind.

The shop in back that normally cuts custom signage is now churning out custom protective equipment.

“What we were seeing, people just zip tying or drilling up pieces of plastics and we just knew that wasn’t going to fly for a lot of businesses and restaurants,” he said. “We had to find the thing that was going to be sturdy enough and that would still be aesthetically pleasing.”

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Plexiglas barricades are a CDC-recommended way to block COVID-19’s spread, it’s why the dividers are being installed everywhere from offices to manufacturing facilities to grocery stores. Marchbanks guesses that will be the new normal, at least until a vaccine is developed. 

“I think that there’s going to be a lot of hangover and insecurity about, is this safe? So, if we can provide some security and let businesses open back up, let the economy come back around, be a small part of that, that’s awesome.”

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While he’s excited to help shops and restaurants, he hopes the barricades can help his business see this through, too.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last, we don’t know how long before people come back to trade shows, so we’ve got to be able to keep the lights on,” he said. “And we’re hustlers.”