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Craig McEwen, Published March 09 2009

Q&A: Awning and canvas company owner has it covered

Brad Olson stitches together a large aqua and white awning in a spacious Moorhead workshop.

He is the owner of Olson Awning & Canvas, 118 9th St. N. The business produces and repairs residential window and business awnings, boat and pontoon covers, boat lift canopies, farm truck covers and miscellaneous items.

Olson started the business in 2005 and later merged with Wright Awning, a company dating back to 1881, the year Moorhead was founded. Partners Albert J. Wright and O.C. Beck launched Beck & Wright, a tent, awning and funeral home business. The partnership dissolved in 1911, and Wright started Wright Tent and Awning.

“They did a lot of tents back in those days, even covered wagons,” said great-grandson Bill Wright, who now works with Olson.

Last fall, Olson moved the business from its previous 2,400-square-foot location to the current 13,000-square-foot facility.

Q: How did you get started in this kind of work?

A: I bought the old Anderson Tarp Repair business on First Avenue (Moorhead), where Tom’s Shoe Repair is now.

We ran it there for a few years and then merged with Wright Awning.

When Bill Wright came to work here we started doing more awnings. We only did a few before, and now we are doing a lot.

What kind of products do you make here?

Awnings, boat covers, pontoon covers. We do boat lift canopies. We do a lot of repair, too. We even do trampoline repair.

The biggest business we get is when the wind storms come through on the lakes. We do a lot of lift canopy repair.

What kind of awnings do you make?

Residential awnings and commercial awnings for businesses and storefronts. We make them, install them, the whole works. We go out, look at the building, assess what can be put on it. We have a fabrication shop so we can do aluminum welding and steel welding. The older traditional pipe frame awnings that are still on the market, we’re still doing those.

We do a lot of patio awnings.

Are awnings and tarps made from different kinds of material?

Yes, from vinyl to polyester to nylon. Canvas has changed from the old cotton. We have synthetics now.

Is any of your tarp repair related to agriculture?

We do a little bit of farm tarps and grain cart covers. We don’t get into the big trucks.

How big an area do your customers come from?

I’ve had a few jobs where people want me to go out to Lake Superior to do custom canvas work on their big yacht-style boats, 30-plus- foot cabin cruisers.

Normally, the Bismarck area would be the farthest I would go.

Usually to the east it’s the lakes area. And of course the F-M area, Grand Forks and Wahpeton. About 100 miles out is kind of standard.

How many employees do you have?

Four employees. In the spring, hopefully, we will be hiring more. So far business has doubled since moving here.

What are your store hours?

Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Phone: (218) 233-4411.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502