Bloomington father-son duo sell 22,000 masks and counting

Richard Reeve
Updated: July 30, 2020 10:25 PM
Created: July 30, 2020 09:05 PM

Just days after Minnesota's statewide mask mandate went into effect, a mask superstore is emerging in Bloomington. 

"There's been some days when I've been all the way around Walgreens," Buddy "Rocketman" Michaelson said of the line to his stand. "Hundreds and hundreds of people show up. It's amazing." 

This latest edition, the eighth pop-up store set up by Michaelson, consists of a few sturdy tables along Lyndale Avenue, strategically-placed bottles of sanitizer and, of course, masks. 

Hundreds of them, piled high. 

"I've been literally sewing 18 hours a day," Michaelson said. "I'll wake up at 7 a.m. and sew 'til 2 to 3 every single day. This is like day 114 for me." 

The masks range between $5 and $8. 

Since ramping up his business, the 20-year-old says he's either sold or donated 22,000 masks since early April. 

But Michaelson says he's also donated hundreds of the face coverings: 700 to the Scott County Sheriff's Office and 500 more to area mental health facilities and homeless shelters. 

Lee Crumrine, a kindergarten assistant from Eden Prairie, and her son Bobby are repeat customers. 

"My son goes to a disabled adult work program every day, so he picks out a different mask every day, and I'm starting back up at school," she said. "I think he's amazing. The first Saturday we went, we were so impressed, we bought 20 masks." 

Michaelson says he started sewing masks as a favor to friends. 

"Just people would come and say, 'Hey, I need five masks,'" he said. "OK, I would sew them right then, and as they're going out the driveway, I'd be finishing up and snipping, and say, 'Here you go.'" 

It was a definite change of pace, even for a guy who knows his way around a needle and thread. 

Read KSTP's full coronavirus coverage

"My main business is Rocketman Parachutes," Michaelson said. "So I make parachutes for rockets and balloons and swimming, all kinds of stuff. That's been really slow in these times with everything canceled."  

Thus the name Rocketman.

"I think it's great," said Mark Rynda of Bloomington, who's been searching for Minnesota Twins masks. "For someone to do that, with the crisis we're in, to come out and support our situation is awesome." 

But if Michaelson is a budding entrepreneur, scouring local fabric stores and clothing retailers to buy materials, his father Ky is a master mask maker. 

The elder Michaelson is 81, retired after a career in Hollywood, working in the movies, all while building rocket-powered racecars and, yes, rocket ships. 

Scattered across several tables are the ingredients that make up a cloth mask: a lining, a filter and the covering itself. 

"What you have here is the actual filter material," he explains, peeling a mask open. "It's a three-layer mask."

Ky Michaelson says he spends eight hours a day at the sewing machine, stitching together mask linings and elastic bands. He estimates he sews about 250 masks a day. 

"We're just doing our part to help the community out," he said. "All of a sudden we have the laws in place where you have to wear a mask. Things are taking off like crazy, and we're just trying to keep up." 

Ky Michaelson, who's lived in Bloomington most of his life, recalls how a polio outbreak during his childhood forced many parents to build fences around their yards, to keep their kids safe. 

"This is a lot worse than that," he said. "But I just hope we get through this." 

What to know about Minnesota's mask mandate

In the meantime, Ky Michaelson says, he and his son are just trying to do their part, to fight back against the pandemic, one mask at a time.

The customers are supportive and grateful. 

"(The masks are) kind of a nuisance, to be honest," Rynda said. "But we're all in this together, and we gotta do what we gotta do to get through it."  

Ky Michaelson says it feels good to have something to do, to help. 

"How did I learn how to sew? I figured it out. Trial and error," he said. "I'm a fairly good sewer. Buddy is really fast. Very, very fast." 

And with all that speed, do the father and son ever expect to slow down?

"I don't know, because it just started out with just trying to sew as fast as I can, and I still am — and now I have all these masks here," Buddy Michaelson said. "Kind of addicted. I don't know when I might stop." 

Both men say they're enjoying working on their mask assembly line. 

"It's pretty rewarding — actually very relaxing," Ky Michaelson says. "Turn the TV on, and the hours fly by like crazy." 

Buddy Michaelson is planning his next mask pop-up outside Oxboro Cleaners in Bloomington on Saturday. 

"I would have never dreamed this would've happened, even three months ago," he said. "That's my main mission, is providing a good mask for really cheap, and keeping the community safe."

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