Schenectady

Schenectady backpack maker Tough Traveler now producing face masks for COVID-19 response

Tough Traveler meeting a need
Tough Traveler worker Michael Rembersauer wears a mask made at the State Street business in Schenectady Wednesday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Tough Traveler worker Michael Rembersauer wears a mask made at the State Street business in Schenectady Wednesday.

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — A factory best known for its backpacks and duffel bags has started selling face masks by the thousands for people to wear when they venture into the public.

Tough Traveler Ltd. on State Street started producing simple non-medical masks just over a week ago. 

“It’s been heartwarming,” said Nancy Gold, president of Tough Traveler. “There are a lot of people who are very worried because they can’t find [masks] when they’ve been told by various governments that they need them.”

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Gold said that they’ve already sold thousands of masks since they started selling them on April 3. 

Tough Traveler, founded in 1970, was able to stay open after widespread shutdowns in New York state because it was deemed an “essential” business due to its production of packs and bags for first responders. They make cases holding anything from oxygen tanks to opioids. 

Now, Gold says, they’re meeting a lot of Capital Region residents who want a durable face mask. 

“They feel frustrated that they’re told they should be wearing them and then they can’t find them. Now they can come to us,” said Gold. 

Until recently, the Centers for Disease Control had not officially recommended that the public wear face masks. Experts, including director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, expressed concern that citizens could buy up critical medical-grade masks and worsen shortages for medical professionals.

On April 3, the CDC advised the use of “simple cloth face coverings,” including homemade masks. Soon, some local and state governments made face masks mandatory.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday that will mandate all New Yorkers wear face coverings in public when they cannot observe social distancing of at least six feet. (For example, in a store). He said the rule, which goes into effect Friday at 8 p.m., won’t have civil penalties attached.

“I hope New Yorkers will do it because it makes sense,” Cuomo said. “Look, it’s not the biggest inconvenience in the world.”

Gold said her company is proud to produce “Made in America” products at a time when overseas imports and supply chains may be compromised. 

“During this time, the U.S. has been moaning, ‘Where’s our manufacturers?’ So, I did think maybe there will be a turn to purchasing from the U.S., that they’ll see what a benefit this is,” Gold said. “ But I don’t know.”

The company is still manufacturing their existing products like fanny packs, computer bags and duffels. Customers can order their face masks for delivery or arrange a pick-up time at Tough Traveler’s factory and store on State Street.

Meanwhile, Gold hopes this is only a temporary addition to their product line. “We don’t exist to make masks,” Gold said. “When this thing is over, I’m sure we’ll stop.”

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