Alsip firm protects first responders, its own workers

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

Workers make masks at NorthCape in Alsip. The manufacturer of patio furniture and cushions has pivoted to making personal protective equipment. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

A southwest suburban company that was just days away from shutting down operations has been able to change its focus and keep its staff intact.

NorthCape, which manufactures patio furniture and cushions in Alsip and New Jersey, had seen its orders come to a grinding halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, as luck would have it, company founder Bill Wenzel serves as a trustee on a New Jersey hospital board. During a March 20 call with the hospital’s leadership team, the hospital president related how desperate the care center was for masks and gowns.

Even before the meeting was over, Wenzel contacted his business partner, Tom Murray, president of the company, who is based in Alsip, describing the problem. By that afternoon, the company had prototypes in place for personal protective equipment.

“We were two or three days away from shutting down. The market of people buying cushions had vanished,” Murray said. “We were all but out of business.”

Murray said with fabric already on hand in the Alsip warehouse to create cushions, it did not require a lot of changes to start creating gowns and masks.

Tom Murray stands in the NorthCape outdoor furniture showroom in Alsip. The company is now making masks and gowns. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“We wanted to do something to help first responders and, at the same time, we were able to help our staff,” Murray said.

The company is turning most orders around in 24-48 hours, Murray said.

NorthCape is offering five different color choices for masks. All are made of double ply spun polyester. Only one color was being offered for gowns as of Saturday, May 16 due to high demand, according to NorthCape officials. The gowns are single ply spun polyester.

Murray said the company wants to offer consumers fabric options, but sometimes demand eliminates any options.

NorthCape’s PPE offerings can be found at

Murray said that hospitals and nursing homes have been big purchasers of the NorthCape masks and gowns.

“We are really just charging enough to keep us in business,” he said of the company’s new offerings. “We are losing money every day. There are no profits being made. That’s not why we’re doing it.”

He said the company has found a niche in the PPE market, serving the needs of individual consumers and small businesses.

“If you are going to make a 30,000- or 40,000-mask order, you are probably going to go to Chinese firms, but in the U.S. for orders of one to 5,000 masks, there is a gap in the market and that is perfect for us,” Murray said.

A NorthCape worker creates fasteners at the Alsip company. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

The company president and other NorthCape leaders are happy the company was able to pivot quickly and keep their staff of 75 at the Alsip facility on the job.

“At the end of the day, no one is going hungry. Our business can’t go away,” Murray said. “Our workers need to be here.”

He said NorthCape plans to continue making masks as the need persists and until outdoor furniture and cushion sales return to normal.

“We’ll stay in this business as long as people still need masks,” the Burr Ridge resident said.

Murray admitted that he and other NorthCape leaders were not sure the company could transition, but the company has been able to shift gears, continuing to run full shifts of workers.

He said knowing that workers at the Alsip business are still able to come to work is a good feeling.

“Any help you give stays with you. It gets you up every day,” Murray said.