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Northland Steps Up Update: Frost River ditches main sales floor to enhance PPE production

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DULUTH, MN -- For a month, we've documented the transformation of Frost River Trading in Lincoln Park.

In March, our story with owner Chris Benson highlighted his hopes to go from bag-making to PPE-making.

In early April, we featured the company as they made that a reality, beginning to manufacture face shields for local hospitals.

Tuesday, we returned to see staff enter a new phase, which has left the store unrecognizable.

The main sales floor, once filled with packs and other signature Frost River merchandise, has been cleared out completely.

The carpet is now covered by a layer of paper.

12 different sewing stations now make up the main level, manned by mostly new hires.

"Why not use this critical square footage to run machines," said Frost River owner Chris Benson. "Our first workshop yesterday was students and college age students. Hired nine students out of that."

They combine with many previous employees to make up a well-oiled PPE machine, churning out face masks, face shields, bunny suits and more in very large numbers.

"We should be able to get to a point where we're producing thousands of masks per day. We should be able to get to a point where we're producing enough shields to cover all the needs in northern Minnesota," said Benson.

But it is not just the main floor.

Upstairs, some of the more precision, heavy duty sewing is being done, with staff making PAPR hoods.

Down in the basement, leftover material from hospitals is being repurposed to create components of the protective gear.

And out back behind the business Tuesday, an Essentia van picked up the hospitals latest special order, made up of 100 PAPR hoods and 500 masks.

Benson and the hospitals are working out payment together.

As for all the product that once filled the main sales floor, it's tucked away in a large basement area as they continue to rely solely on online sales.

Benson plans to make large amounts of PPE well into the summer, and plans to hire more young people and college students, paying them $15 an hour.

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Dan Wolfe

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