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Once-Struggling Faribault Woolen Mill Posts Record Year Amid Pandemic

FARIBAULT, Minn. (WCCO) -- In Faribault, the Cannon River rushes by. As it does, it goes shoulder to shoulder with the Faribault Woolen Mill Company, one of the most iconic buildings in southern Minnesota. It's from here that you get a glimpse into a whole, new world.

Some of the machines the woolen mill uses today are a 100 years old, or more.

"They took it from the end of the Civil War, Great Depression, World Wars, all these different economic cycles," said Paul Mooty, the company's vice chairman.

Business here began at the end of the Civil War. A cabinet maker from Germany named Carl Klemer bought a "one-horse treadmill carding machine" to make quilts.

"The horse on that treadmill was Jenny, and this is the harness Jenny wore," said Mooty while showing the harness.

Step by step, Carl and Jenny grew the homespun business. One of their first clients was the U.S. Military. Since then, the mill has made more than a million foot soldier blankets.

"They say that during the World Wars the odds were a soldier carried a blanket made from this very mill," Mooty said.

But during the Great Recession in 2009, the company fell on hard times. It closed and its historic building was almost demolished. Long-time employees were suddenly out of work. That's when Chuck Mooty and his cousin saw an opportunity to buy and resurrect the mill with a "Made in America" approach.

"The employees that came back here allowed us to restart this business," said Mooty. "Without them it doesn't happen. The pride they had to be here made the difference."

It's a pride that they wear well.

"We have a blanket designed by Dyani White Hawk. This is one of our fastest-selling products ever. We sold more in one week than any product we've ever had before," said Paul Grangaard, the company's chairman and CEO.

A company that specializes in keeping people warm had a record year during the pandemic, allowing them to add 20 more jobs and 100 new products.

"There's nothing better than a blanket around your shoulders while you're socializing outdoors," Grangaard said. "They're products that really appeal to people's connection to Minnesota."

And through a history of spinning, twisting and weaving, the woolen mill has become the fabric of Faribault.

"It was a great love. We had a lot of good will behind us," Mooty said.

In addition to the Faribault location the company has stores in Chicago, Minneapolis, and they'll be opening another one in Excelsior this spring.

If you would like more information on how you can tour the 156-year-old mill, click here.

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