As a virus sweeps across the nation, it was revealed that we were critically short on certain medical necessities including hand sanitizer, masks, and ventilators. Many feared for what would be a soon to come shortfall on these items that are medically critical to prevent further spread of the virus and effectively treat those who have it.

Thankfully, private enterprise has stepped up to the plate in a historic way. Businesses are transitioning to fill the existing gaps and provide the supplies that the country needs. In Mississippi, we have seen local business leaders bravely take risks in order to fill critical medical needs. 

A few days ago, I had the chance to speak with Wright Scott of Great Scott, a high-end clothing store from Jackson that many across Mississippi know well. Wright and his dad, who founded the company in 1986, have shifted their business and have now produced a large quantity of masks to support local healthcare workers.

It’s the classic American small business success story. What started as one man’s vision almost 25 years ago is now a thriving part of the North Jackson economy and culture. Esquire Magazine even ranked Great Scott in the top 50 of men’s stores across the entire country. Before the virus outbreak, they had a thriving professional clothing store, tailor, and even barber shop.

Unfortunately, the virus struck at the height of their events season from February to May, forcing them to shut down the store at a critical time. They acted quickly to transition their business model as much as they could. Great Scott has used a variety of technological approaches including email, texts, calls, and FaceTime to connect with their customers and check in on them.

A trip to New York, before the crisis began, showcased to Wright the rising trepidations over the virus, and he saw this upon his return to the store as more and more people feared the spread and began to change their habits. He knew that precautionary measures needed to be taken, and so the store took very early steps to guarantee as sanitary and safe an environment as possible. Wright noted to me that, “as a business, they just want to do the right thing.”

As of this writing, since shelter-in-place orders were enacted, approximately 26 million people have been forced to file for unemployment. Recognizing this, the blessing of continued employment has become all the more critical for folks trying to keep bread on the table. As Wright noted to me, “we consider everyone who works here as part of our family.” To Great Scott, this wasn’t just an aspirational principal, but something they acted on as they gave all of their tailors the opportunity to stay employed through the store.

Retaining their tailors allowed them to answer the call when Methodist Rehabilitation Center reached out to see if Great Scott might be able to make them masks. With haste, the experienced tailors of the store moved to begin making high end masks that would ensure the safety of MRC workers. Wright wasn’t the least bit surprised that his tailors were able to make the transition to masks, saying that “not only are they great tailors, but they’re great people. They can do anything!”

When it comes to reopening, the Great Scott team is hoping to get back to work as soon as possible, so they can begin once again making suits and reconnecting with their customers at the store. As to when this might be, Wright noted that he’s “hoping that’s sooner rather than later,” but his primary concern is everybody’s healthy and safety stating that, he “want[s] to do what’s best for the store, the employees, and also what’s best for everyone beyond his own walls.”

At the moment, Wright stated that they don’t have any plans to continue a luxury mask line once this crisis comes to an end, but he’s open to it if people want them. However, business will undoubtedly be different moving forward. We will likely see a transition to a shopping environment that continues to mandate limited numbers present in stores and alternative means of connection with customers, including digital options.

While many are likely missing the experience of shopping at Great Scott or getting a haircut or suit tailored there, I think that folks will appreciate the store all the more in the future, especially knowing how Wright Scott and his team took business risks to help his community when it was most in need. As Wright said to me with such great truth, “as a society we’ll emerge from this even stronger.” 

I think we all hope that that’s the case, and look forward to the day, not too far in the future now, that we can return to more regular work and life routines.

These actors deserve to be highlighted, and so the Mississippi Center for Public Policy is publishing a series dedicated to doing just that. Over previous weeks, we’ve highlighted businesses making masks, making hand sanitizer, and aiding the move to online education. We aim to continue showcasing the stories of these local businesses, who have willingly given up their normal operating procedures to help as many people as they possibly can.

If you know of a local Mississippi business that is helping those in need during this critical time, we’d love to highlight the work that they’re doing. Please email Hunter Estes via estes@mspolicy.org to discuss further.