On March 24, the Pacific Beach location of Trader Joe’s lined up all its customers before entering, sanitized their carts and kept them 6-feet apart.
It was the unsettling sight of the meat department workers inside that got La Jolla resident Scott Flavell thinking, however.
“They were standing right next to each other,” he said, “getting breathed on by all of us with no masks on.”
At the time, Flavell was grappling with his own coronavirus-caused problem: laying off all four workers in his Kearny Mesa factory. It manufactured postural correction products for the chiropractic industry — not exactly an essential business.
As Flavell left Trader Joe’s with his wife, Miyuki, a simultaneous solution to both problems suddenly dawned on him. His factory would switch to manufacturing face masks and donate them to grocery stores. He shifted production on March 30, making 10,000 masks at an initial cost of $3,000.
“I had to buy new sewing machines, buy all the material myself and have it shipped from New York,” Flavell said. “Nobody wanted to donate anything or help me. So I said, ‘Screw it, we’re just going to do it ourselves.’ ”
Although his masks are not medical-grade, Flavell said, they are designed to mitigate virus droplets if people are coughing or sneezing around you, “and it’s still a hell of a lot better than nothing.”
Flavell, a Los Angeleno who settled in San Diego after attending San Diego State University, explained that his wife comes from a culture that has always worn face masks.
“That’s one of the reasons they’re having such success with knocking out (coronavirus) down there,” he said of Japan.
By April 1, Flavell provided 12 masks to Valley Farm Market, 6902 La Jolla Blvd. The next day, he approached the Pacific Beach location of Trader Joe’s with 50.
They accepted, Flavell reported, “but were perplexed that we would give them out for free.”
According to Flavell, they also indicated that Trader Joe’s “would eventually be providing them to their employees.”