The owners of the city’s last sun umbrella factory really are the boys of summer

The owners of the city’s last sun umbrella factory really are the boys of summer
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

By Aaron Short

These shady guys want to cool you off this summer.

Whether you’re tanning at the beach, relaxing at a rooftop barbecue or dining al fresco, chances are you’re protected from the sun’s oppressive rays by an umbrella made in Williamsburg.

Cousins Herb and Barnett Brickner have been making beach and deck umbrellas from their Metropolitan Avenue factory, Embee Sunshade, for more than decades.

But the weeks surrounding Memorial Day, when they fill thousands of orders for restaurants, clubs and beach bars, is their time to shine.

“Restaurants to come to us because we can custom-make umbrellas in their colors and can silkscreen their logos,” said Herb Brickner. “It’s better than going to another store and not getting exactly what you want.”

Workers at the 79-year-old company assemble thousands of umbrellas each year by hand, grasping some of the same tools and machinery that have been used since the factory’s inception.

Each umbrella takes about a half hour to make and can cost between $80 for a simple beach umbrella and $300, for a seven-foot deck umbrella with a stand.

When an order comes in, workers select and measure swaths of synthetic canvas or vinyl fabric from an extensive archive before cutting it into triangles and sewing them into a half-moon pattern.

Then, another worker welds aluminum spokes and tubes to the inside of the canvas, creating a stylish product ready to shade the blinding sun.

These well-made sunshades and their customers’ loyalty make Embee one of the few Brooklyn-made industries that is holding its own against cheaply made Chinese imports.

Over the past eight years, the city lost 64,000 manufacturing jobs, a 54-percent decline, and scores of once thriving factories in Williamsburg have been converted to luxury lofts.

But Embee is seeing its demand rise as it is taking more orders from restaurants looking to mitigate noise and keep patrons cool in its outdoor seating and from mobile food trucks in need of awnings and steel-fabricated umbrellas to shade hungry customers.

The Brickners are counting on more sunny days ahead — and the need for people to block them out.

Embee Sunshade [722 Metropolitan Ave. at Graham Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 387-8566]. Open 9 am-5 pm. For info, visit www.embeesunshade.com.

Co-owner José Ibarra does a lot of the stitching himself.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini