When in Fairbault

April 5, 2015

Last Thursday was a trip to The Woolen Mill located in Faribault, Minnesota.  It has a rich multi-generational family heritage - one that nearly ended in 2009.  Now they are the come-back kid, ramped back up to employing 80 people, producing between 125 - 160 blankets a day and a few years ago they added a retail space.  I peeked into a magnificent conference room and drooled over a couple killer offices.  Of course all the cool workplaces have a dog these days so it was good to see a lanky pup lounging around.  

Walking into the storefront felt familiar.  I think because their patterns are familiar.  My folks had a couple of the plaid throws with the classic fringe - I wish I had those now!  I'm sure I am not alone in this sentiment.  My parents took the blankets on our camping trips and picnics.  The company has moved beyond blankets into knapsacks and scarves and contemporary goods like an iPad wool cover.  In case you were wondering, they get four scarves out of each blanket.  When they added all these jewel tone scarves to their line I am not certain but they are lovely.  And soft.

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The tour was cool. 

First, they are a kid-friendly building.  Even with the working machinery in the factory, kids are welcome because there are well-defined walkways.  Nicole and I met up with friends that afternoon, and just in our little group we had a three year old, two year old, one year old and a 5 week old.  It went really well.   And for those interested in taking pictures in the factory, the guide will tell you the only spot where picture-taking is not allowed otherwise they are happy for folks to take pictures anywhere.

Our tour guide grew up around the business  - her father was a factory production manager so she had interesting detail about the history and processes.  The only challenge was hearing it all.  I'll go back a second time just to catch more of the presentation but the sense of pride and preservation of the craft was evident.  The thing that was most surprising was the age of certain pieces of equipment with some dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.  Just keeping the machines running, especially with all the fibers in the air, seems like it would be a job for a dozen mechanics.

Black + White = Gray

Providing blankets to troops is an important part of their history but also their future.  To make military blankets they weave black and white thread to get that muted gray color. 

We rounded out the afternoon with an Amablu Gorgonzola, fresh pear, pecans and honey-drizzled pizza (as in worth driving a long way just to have THAT pizza, kind of pizza). at the Cheese Cave Deli.  It's a couple miles from the mill.  I was expecting to find wheels upon wheels of blue cheese but they actually have a big case of specialty cheeses.  We left to go north with hearty German bread and a few fancy cheeses.  It was a very good day, hanging with friends and kids, learning about an American brand and, well, pizza.