The newest store in The Mall in Columbia is one that no one thought would exist prior to the coronavirus pandemic — not even the store’s owner.
Shield Pals, a personal protective equipment store, opened its first retail store at the mall on June 26, two months after launching online.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d have a retail store,” said co-founder Chris McCormick.
Shield Pals is on the second floor next to the Apple store in The Mall in Columbia, which reopened June 20 at 50% capacity and increased safety guidelines.
“We are pleased to be able to offer new retailers such as Shield Pals that provide fun and unique items focused on the continued health and safety of the families in our community,” said Barb Nicklas, the mall’s general manager.
Shield Pals offers face shields with designs like animals, robots, crowns or food.
McCormick said he first got the idea for them thinking about how he could make the pandemic a little less scary for his young son.
“I was watching my son sleep one morning and thought about how terrifying it would be to take him to the hospital,” said McCormick, who lives in Pasadena. “Then I thought about how terrifying it would be for a 3-year-old. That’s when I thought about what if we could print funny things or characters on the shields to add some personality to them and reduce anxiety for kids.”
Prior to Shield Pals, McCormick, 47, never thought about selling personal protective equipment. He and his wife, Tracy, own Hatch Exhibits, an Elkridge-based event production company. McCormick said Hatch has worked with large clients like Facebook, Under Armour and Google for events. Once the pandemic hit, all of the company’s events were canceled, and McCormick had to furlough his employees on March 19.
That weekend, McCormick was watching one of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s news conferences, and Cuomo talked about how badly the state and hospitals needed personal protective equipment.
“We have all the equipment that could be used to make PPE, so I called my people at the shop and asked them if we could see what we could do,” McCormick said.
On March 22, Hatch sold 1,000 face shields to a health system in Michigan and then 10,000 more to the same health system the following day. These orders allowed McCormick to hire back the staff he had furloughed just a few days prior.
McCormick launched Shield Pals online a few weeks later, and the first few Facebook posts started quickly getting shared around. In two days, Shield Pals had 400 orders.
“We were nowhere near prepared for what we unleashed,” he said. “Now, we’ve done 5,000 orders all over the world.”
While the impetus for Shield Pals was to make face shields for kids, McCormick said he’s learned adults also want to feel more comfortable when wearing personal protective equipment.
“It was meant for kids to reduce anxiety,” McCormick said, “but we found out it wasn’t just kids who needed that break and that humor.”