Ian McCarthy, director of sales and business development, sits behind...

Ian McCarthy, director of sales and business development, sits behind a partition in his office at Brite Frame Fabricators in Bellport on Tuesday.  Credit: James Carbone

Demand for its safety partitions made from flexible sheets of plastic in sturdy aluminum frames has sustained a small business in Bellport during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brite Frame Fabricators shut down in March when the trade shows, special events and shopping malls that buy its visual display equipment were closed to slow the virus’ spread. The workforce, which totals less than 10 people, was sent home for weeks.

Seeing other display firms in Europe start to make safety partitions, Brite Frame employees "repurposed" the aluminum frames and plastic "in our warehouse to make a product that’s easy to assemble and can be shipped in a little FedEx tube," said Ian McCarthy, director of sales and business development at the three-year-old manufacturer.

The first partitions, which are sold under the CrystalFlex brand name, were delivered to a local university in June. The company has since called back its staff and launched a website to sell directly to customers.

McCarthy spoke with Newsday about Brite Frame’s expansion into workplace safety. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Before the pandemic what was Brite Frame making?

We were, and still are, in the silicone-edge graphic display business. It involves fabric with a silicone-sewn edge that’s printed upon and stretched to fit onto an aluminum frame. The frames can be mounted on the wall, hung from the ceiling or be free-standing in a convention center, airport, shopping mall or retail store. The frames can be lit from the inside using LED lighting. That’s still our core business but we had to pivot because of the pandemic.

Brite Frame Fabricators in Bellport began making safety partitions in the summer when its core business of frames for trade show displays, retail stores, malls and airports dwindled because of COVID restrictions. Credit: James Carbone

How long did it take to invent the safety partitions and what impact have they had on Brite Frame?

We had all the materials that we needed, so it took about 30 days from concept to execution. The partitions helped get the lights back on for us. They’re keeping us alive.

Who is buying the partitions?

Colleges, restaurants, gyms, offices and retailers throughout the country. Anywhere where people are congregating and having to interact, you’ll see these partitions.

How many partitions does Brite Frame sell per week, on average?

We’re typically shipping at least a few dozen, if not, a couple hundred each week.

What makes your safety partitions stand out compared with those of competitors?

They’re durable, they’re aesthetically pleasing because they come from a display business. They are built to look good and withstand some rigors. They break down very easily and can be stored in a broom closet.

Is there a second life for the partitions once the pandemic ends?

They can become either picture frames, depending on the size, or art displays with a custom silicone-edge graphic.

How long does Brite Frame plan to make the safety partitions?

Social distancing is going to remain with us in some sort of permanent way, so these safety partitions are going to be needed. Even when the pandemic is over, we’re going to keep marketing and creating the partitions line because the world has changed. We created a e-commerce division, called Cutplex, which provides partitions directly to consumers.

Is your display equipment business returning?

It’s picking up slowly. The expectation is we won’t be back to full strength until trade shows and other large events are back in full swing, which may not happen until the second half of next year. The primary revenue stream for us right now is still partition-based and we are grateful for it.

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