GIFFORD — Out of the tough times of a pandemic slowdown has come new life for a Gifford business.

Jessie Starkey Photography has added more offerings to her business.

While photography is still her main business, she has added a banner and sign selection that has boomed in recent weeks.

Starkey created a design with a photo of a graduate, an idea that exploded, with “parents wanting to celebrate their graduates for everyone to see.”

Jessie Starkey and grandbaby

Jessie Starkey and her granddaughter Eloise in front of her business in Gifford.

Gifford and Prairieview-Ogden schools had signs made for each of their graduating eighth-graders, and they were displayed in their school yards.

“I found myself traveling throughout Champaign and Vermilion counties delivering almost 200 signs,” Starkey said. “The pure excitement and joy everyone expressed when seeing the sign I delivered was so much more than what I expected.”

She said she also created a healthcare support sign that many people ordered.

Starkey said the signs were printed by John Moomaw at Jill’s Creative Expressions. Starkey took Moomaw up on his offer when he asked if she wanted to buy his 54-inch printer, enabling her to start her own banner and sign business in Gifford.

She also started selling balloon bouquets after noting that most of the signs and banners being ordered were for celebratory occasions. She said the balloons are “100 percent biodegradable latex balloons.”

Jay Smith with signs June 17

Principal Jay Smith out front of the Gifford Grade School with eighth-grade grad signs that Starkey made.

Who knows if Starkey would have expanded her business if the pandemic “hadn’t taken my photography profession from me.”

“My clients and I missed out on sessions such as labor and delivery, newborn, maternity, travel softball teams and three towns’ rec ball picture days.”

Photography remains her first love as far as a profession, but said she now knows “if we are to have anything like this to arise again, I can still have an income, but most important help others smile with banners and signs and balloons too.”