The route from Mission to Pharr is both a trail of hope and a path of despair during the coronavirus pandemic.

With partial opening of the Texas economy, many businesses have gingerly begun to reopen, while others have remained closed. 

COVID-19 has temporarily shutt down much of the economy, resulting in arguably the permanent closure of many businesses, unable to survive without a continuous infusion of capital supplies, or customers.

Art & Signs, LLC, of Pharr, a manufacturer of large electric signs that one sees in front of so many businesses these days, was one of the few that has thus far survived the economic collapse wrought by COVID-19. 

Most of its neighbors, other businesses in the industrial sector of Pharr on North Sugar Road are shuttered and abandoned, some with hope of returning in the future, some apparently resigned to a fate of permanent closure.

This reporter took a trip to the company’s manufacturing facilities, to catch up with some old friends and get a look inside a business other than a supermarket, dollar store, hospital or drive-through fast-food chain that has been able to operate and survive throughout the lockdown. 

The same kinds of safe distancing, hand-washing, masks and gloves use that you observe in H-E-B, Walmart, banks or any other essential business that have been allowed to operate, apply here at the sign-making company. On the floor are space markers. You must be six feet away from the staff that attends to you and hand-sanitizer, an item you cannot even find in most Valley businesses anymore, is on the desk for your use.

The owner and general manager, Arturo Nacoud, while admitting that times have been difficult, remains optimistic about his company’s future.

“This company has had an advantage. Before the pandemic we already had a lot of work. That is what we are working on now. If we suffer a crisis it will be afterwards because we do not have any new work ahead,” said the general manager of the Pharr company that manufactures and installs electric signs to many different businesses located throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

Presently the company is operating with a staff of ten, five of whom are administrative and five who manufacture the signs through an elaborate process of welding and graphics while heavy equipment awaits their completion for transport and installation. A lack of new orders, due to a lack of clients in the COVID-era has forced the company to look for loans and/or recent stimulus funds approved by Congress and the Trump Administration.

“Our creditors have been patient with us, conscious of the economic paralysis that we are all victims of currently. Likewise, we have been patient with businesses that owe us,” says Patricia Nacoud, wife of Arturo who works with her husband at the factory.

“We have applied for loans from the Small Business Administration, to meet our payrolls, but we haven’t heard back yet. We are hopeful that assistance will come through quickly,” she adds, noting that they have also applied for small business help from the federal government under the recent stimulus package. 

Likewise, they still have not received any of the stimulus funds from the program. They are expecting both the stimulus funds for small businesses as well as their personal stimulus checks.

The couple gave this reporter a guided tour through the facilities of the company, initially to a drafting room where signs are designed, stenciled and cut before being mounted on metal frames which are assembled through a process that includes welding with a blow torch. There are is an assortment of metal cutting machinery in operation as laborers work with COVID-era masks over their faces. 

Behind them in the yard are one-ton trucks with booms atop for the purpose of transporting and mounting the signs at their final destination.

“We are presently pursuing other ways to sustain our business,” Arturo Nacoud said. “We looking into making the glass barriers that are now required in businesses by the state.”

He is he referring to the shields one now sees in banks and at customer service desks in places like Walmart and H-E-B.

In closing, the couple commented that some of the changes brought on by the pandemic are probably here to stay.

“I think we are going to have to keep washing our hands frequently and wearing face masks for a long time to come. We sanitize all areas of the office and the plant daily. In the trucks the workers must wear masks and use hand sanitizer. I am positive that this all will help us to reflect on the consequences of contamination and so many factors in the world today,” commented Arturo Nacoud.

“This world is not going to be the same, definitely,” added Patricia Nacoud. “ I would like the concept of social distancing to continue. It’s the number one way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many of the recommendations for many people are going to become habits.”

Arturo and Patricia Nacoud are joint proprietors of Art & Signs LLC which has been in operation since 2006 in the Rio Grande Valley. They have been located at their present facility on 911 W Sharm Road in Pharr, since 2018. Patricia Nacoud is a former reporter with the Spanish language version of the Brownsville Herald. She is in the process of producing her own digital magazine on the same premises.

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