C M Almy was forced to shut down its operations and furlough its 85 workers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Face mask production has allowed the company to bring back several workers. Photo provided by Daniel Fendler/C.M. Almy

A Pittsfield manufacturer of garments and other items for churches and the clergy has redirected its operations and is now making face masks intended to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

For 128 years, family-owned CM Almy has been manufacturing vestments, clergy apparel, choir robes, candles, communion bread, linens and other items for churches.

But once the coronavirus pandemic forced churches to cease in-person services, Daniel Fendler, marketing manager for CM Almy, said the company had to restructure.

“Most people, either by their own choice or state orders, stopped attending church because of the coronavirus,” Fendler said during a telephone interview last Wednesday. “And because of that, our church business declined very quickly.

“We thought about what are our core capabilities: We have a production facility. We have tons of fabric that’s just laying around. What’s going to help this process and what’s also going to be something that can help keep our business alive?” 

Fendler said company officials considered what type of products they would be able to make with the cotton fabric typically used to produce items worn by members of the clergy.

“We thought about creating personal protective equipment, like gowns and masks for hospitals, but a lot of them wanted things that are disposable (and) surgical-grade, and we didn’t have the capability to do those sorts of things,” Fendler said.

“But we realized in many places, just for general people going out or taking on essential tasks, they were wearing cloth face coverings, and we thought that is something that we can do.”

The idea of producing face masks seemed even more appropriate after Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order April 29 stipulating those who enter public places where physical distancing is difficult must wear face masks or coverings.

These include grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, playgrounds, crowded parking lots, public transportation and waiting rooms.

CM Almy has now produced more than 10,000 masks in two styles: One with elastic loops that go around the ears and one with an elastic headband. Both styles come in nine types of fabric.

The masks, which began selling May 6, are for sale at the company’s website for $13.50 each. Customers also have the option to buy one mask and donate one.

“So people can buy a single mask, which is $13.50, or they can choose the buy one, donate one for  $24.00,” Fendler said. “And with that, one mask will be sent to you and then donate one in your name to our friends at Partners for World Health, which is a nonprofit organization that operates out of Portland. Then, they’re distributing those masks to vulnerable and needy people.”

CM Almy is making face masks in two styles: One with elastic loops that go around the ears and one with an elastic head band. Both styles come in nine types of fabric. The Pittsfield company has produced about 10,000 masks as it has turned its focus from making garments and other items for churches and the clergy, demand for which have declined since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo provided by Daniel Fendler/C.M. Almy

When the coronavirus began increasing in severity, Fendler said, CM Almy was forced to temporarily cease production facility in Pittsfield and furlough its 85 employees.

“When this first started, we paused all production, and the production facility normally had a staff of 85 people,” Fendler said.  “But now, with this (mask production) going on, we’ve been able to bring a number of those people back to work, so now it’s more like 25 to 30 people” who are back at work.

Fendler said employees on the production floor wear masks and gloves. They also maintain safe distances from one another.

“As this grows, we hope we can safely bring more people back to work,” Fendler said. “Our expectation is that this will go on for a lot longer.

“So when churches begin to open back up, because that’s already our customer base, and when people start going back, they will need to exercise a lot of caution and be protected in those sorts of environments. We’d be happy to continue to be a resource for those situations.”

CM Almy was founded in 1892 in New York City by English master tailor Clarence Mortimer Almy and his son, James, according to the company.

The company, headquartered in Armonk, New York, has been manufacturing its products in Pittsfield since the 1950s, according to Fendler, whose father, Michael Fendler, and uncle, Stephen Fendler, are the current owners of CM Almy.

The factory at 133 Ruth St. in Pittsfield houses the company’s textile and metalware shops, distribution and returns center and purchasing and IT departments.

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