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Sign writer launches a booming side hustle during the pandemic

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Nan Parati makes a sign at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival circa 1990.

Nan Parati makes a sign at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival circa 1990. She's been writing signs for festivals for 36 years. Courtesy Nan Parati

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Nan Parati, left, holds up a sign with Lauren Haydel, who helped launch Parati’s freelancing venture. (Courtesy Parati)

Because many live events have been canceled or put on hold during the pandemic, some event workers are creating new career paths to keep themselves afloat.

Nan Parati is one of them. Parati is a freelance sign writer, graphic designer and festival worker who lives in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

“I make signs for people for their birthdays or to ask someone to marry them or to celebrate something,” Parati said.

Parati has been writing signs for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and other festivals around the country for 36 years. In 2020, she was in New Orleans working for the festival when it was canceled due to the pandemic.  

“I was so upset,” Parati said. “Then, the next devastating part was, ‘Uh-oh, this is how I make money — what am I going to do?’”

Parati said she posted on Facebook, offering up her custom sign services. While she received a few customers that way, Parati said what really launched her freelancing business was when Lauren Haydel, the owner of a New Orleans business called Fleurty Girl, set up an order form on her shop’s website.

“So, we got over 1,000 orders in just a couple weeks, and I was getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning, making signs all day, going to bed at midnight — but that was fine,” Parati said. “I loved it, and so that’s how it really, really took off.”

When festival work was canceled, Parati started making signs for birthdays, proposals and celebrations. (Courtesy Parati)

Parati said she made over 5,000 signs in 2020, more success than she’d expected when she started the venture.

“I thought it would be a little side business, but it’s turned into my main thing I do,” she said.

Although she’s been seeing a lot of demand for her products, Parati said she isn’t interested in expanding, mainly because she wants to make the signs herself.

“I love the fact that I’m the one who writes all the signs for all these festivals, and so when you get a sign from me, it links you to the festival, and so I think that’s pretty cool,” Parati said. “So right now, I’ve copyrighted my fonts so that they’re mine, and I can keep it in my pocket, and I just keep making signs just as long as people want that.”

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