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Pandemic Support Team
Supporting Small Businesses One Shirt at a Time

By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Melissa Donner

In the wake of the devastating EF-3 tornado that recently tore through the heart of Jonesboro and in the midst of a pandemic that has gravely affected businesses across the nation, one local business has developed a way to help. Running Threads, a local screen printing and embroidery store, is developing and selling Pandemic Support Team T-shirts for its fellow small businesses in Jonesboro and the surrounding area in an effort to help them keep their doors open.

Jim and Tracy Stearns began Running Threads in the fall of 2014 to complement their other business, Stearns Race Timing. What started with Tracy wanting to embroider shirts for the timing staff quickly grew after she purchased a small embroidery machine; she was soon overwhelmed with orders, which led to the couple adding screen printing services and opening their own local business. Since then, Running Threads has more than doubled in size and moved to a larger location on Highland Drive in June 2018.

“A lot more people have found us now, and we have expanded our services due to our growth,” said Tracy. “We have doubled in size and purchased our own building. Our screen printing has really taken off, both locally and out of town. We do wholesale contract printing for retail/resale businesses, as well as custom embroidery for corporate apparel. We’ve recently added sublimation printing and upgraded our DTG, or direct to garment digital printing, which permits us to print unlimited colors on smaller orders and full CMYK printing on apparel. We offer online fundraising, as well.”

Running Threads also hosts online stores for businesses like Miracle Kids Success Academy, Access Medical Clinic, Mid-South Health Systems and St. Bernards, where employees can purchase company logo apparel at any time.

“Another thing we added right before (the pandemic) is that we are going to start live, on-site printing,” said Tracy. “We have portable on-site screen print equipment that we can bring to an event, business, art show or tournaments to help with promotion; we can come on-site and print T-shirts, which seems to really be a draw. Once normality resumes, we will be booking events”

The custom apparel store specializes in embroidery and screen printing T-shirts for events, businesses or individuals. Running Threads is licensed with CLC Learfield IMG College for Arkansas State University and New York Institute of Technology, as well as greek licensing for more than 20 sororities and fraternities. The business also works closely with the National Panhellenic Council on campus at A-State. 

Supporting local businesses is a priority for the owners, so they frequently look for opportunities to partner with locally owned vendors for their projects. Running Threads dedicates its annual donation funds to A-State National Panhellenic Council, Northeast Arkansas Humane Society and A-State Up ‘til Dawn for St. Jude. 

That support is something that Tracy was looking to provide even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent tornado that tore through Jonesboro, so she is partnering with local businesses to sell “Pandemic Support Team” T-shirts on the Running Threads website. Each shirt is $20, with $10 going to the business whose shirt they purchase and $10 going to Running Threads to cover materials and labor.

“I’m a nurse; the bigger part of me cares more about other people than anything else,” she said. “My first thought was that I know how hard it is to be in business, period. It’s tough to make ends meet when things are going really well, let alone at a time like this, so I was trying to think of what I could do to help. It’s not keeping anyone in business, but it helps. And it brings attention to all the local business in town. I’m thinking, ‘What can I do to help at all so there are more local businesses who survive this crisis and continue to support each other when this is all over?’

“Screen printers in general work very well together as a group to help each other learn and grow; I’m lucky to be a part of a great national networking group. We were all talking in forums about how we are going to survive this and what we can do to give back to our clients and help ourselves during this time. I started this in Jonesboro with my ‘Jonesboro Strong’ idea and shared my idea and struggles with the group. Others did similar offerings but with a different twist, which helped resolve some of the challenges I was facing locally.”

After learning what a screen printer in another state was doing to help small businesses, Tracy decided to try another approach.

“There was a guy in Massachusetts (with Noreast Custom Apparel) who started putting shirts out there with restaurants and bars logos on the front and pandemic support on the sleeve,” she said. “After local tornado relief efforts adopted the Jonesboro Strong campaign, I took his idea and rolled it out here. … It’s a slow start for me, but I want word to get out to other small businesses. Even if it’s just a little bit, I want to help.”

The current list of participants includes SALT Fitness, RPM Athletics, Jonesboro Occasions magazine, Bearded Bouquet, Abby Cakes, JTown’s Grill, Mid-South Bearing, Munchy’s, The Refinery, The Parsonage, The Fainting Goat, Lost Pizza, The Foundation of Arts, Melissa Donner Photography, Main Street Coffee, Gamble Home Furnishings, and Arisa Health Systems. The list grows every week, but Tracy would love to help even more area small businesses and encourages them to call Running Threads to add their own pandemic support T-shirt to the website.

“We would love for more businesses in Jonesboro and outside of Jonesboro to give us a call,” said Tracy. “We can add their local business, and there are no fees involved. It’s all to help them.

“Jonesboro is the whole reason we are here. It’s because of the support of our community and Arkansas State that we have more than doubled in size in four years. Places like JTown’s Grill have been with me from the start. I do wish people would think more about ordering custom items locally though. We try to take a lot of orders by text message or email, and we make it as easy as possible to do online. Running Threads also offers free local delivery for organizations and corporate clients.”

To-date, Running Threads has helped raise more than $3,000 for local businesses and is adding new Pandemic Support Team T-shirts to its website each week. Additionally, the charitable-minded business has raised $1,400 for tornado relief, which will be donated to the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas.

“Support your local businesses,” said Tracy. “We are all stronger together, and we have to stick together through this.”

Running Threads, located at 3425 E. Highland Drive, is typically open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers curbside pickup and drop off; however, hours may vary as a result of COVID-19. For more information, call (870) 203-9992 or visit runningthreads.net.