The whir of machines could be heard on El Cajon Boulevard on Thursday.
A gigantic sewing machine was embroidering words on six hats a time. Another stitched letters on some sweaters. Nearby, a large screen-printing carousel clicked and exhaled as it slathered paint on T-shirts.
It’s a relief for Kirston Berger.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what the future looked like for the business,” said Berger, the owner of KNB Printing Solutions, in City Heights.
The noisy machines were shut down in March when the coronavirus pandemic first swept through California.
“It was devastating,” said Berger. “I felt hopeless, powerless, like we had no control over the situation.”
KNB Printing produces and prints hats and shirts or whatever businesses, schools and governments need. When businesses shut down, so did KNB.
“It was just cancellation after cancellation,” Berger recalled. “We serve a lot of small businesses, and, unfortunately, some of the small businesses are no longer in business.”
Berger estimated KNB lost $250,000 worth of orders since March. Face-mask sales were the only thing that kept them afloat.
Sometime in May, Berger said Facebook memories reminded her about her father, who died in 2016 from a brain tumor. She printed shirts for her family that read, “Losing is not an option.”
Berger took it as a sign: “Just reminding me that losing is not an option.”
She took the message to her small staff.
“‘This isn’t it for us, guys,’” Berger recalled. “‘We’re going to come back bigger and stronger.’”
By mid-July, the KNB Printing Solutions machines started making noise again. Berger started getting orders again. She took it as a small sign that businesses were coming back.
“People don’t want to give up, and I love that they’re still fighting,” Berger said with a smile.
The National Federation of Independent Business said Thursday that the small business labor market is recovering and moving in the right direction.
Luck did play a role in Berger’s survival. She said KNB Printing Solutions paid off all of its equipment four months before the pandemic shut things down. She was debt-free and only had to worry about utilities, payroll and rent.
“Amazing -- we are so blessed," Berger said. "Incredibly blessed.”
Berger admits that her business will likely only break even in 2020 unless schools and sports miraculously return. In the meantime, she takes her survival as a sign that other businesses are surviving as well.
“You have to be resilient and think out of the box if you want to succeed,” Berger said.